North

Coast guard crew await COVID-19 tests before Arctic season

The Canadian Coast Guard starts its Arctic season in two weeks, and it's still not sure where COVID-19 tests for sailors will come from. 

First vessels will depart on June 22, health screens planned before boarding

CCGS Pierre Radisson will depart from Quebec City on June 22 for ice breaking. The Canadian Coast Guard starts its Arctic season in about two weeks, and it's still not sure where COVID-19 tests for sailors will come from. (Canadian Coast Guard)

The Canadian Coast Guard starts its Arctic season in about two weeks, and it's still not sure where COVID-19 tests for sailors will come from. 

But crew will be tested before they set sail, whether testing happens through the provinces or through a private company, coast guard officials said Tuesday during a media briefing held over teleconference.

Sailors are concerned to go to the North without a test, because it takes time to get medical help, according to a report by Radio-Canada earlier this week.

"We are well aware of the concerns that our members have," said Neil O'Rourke, assistant commissioner for the coast guard Arctic region, from Yellowknife. "The safety of our employees and mariners is a top priority."  

The eight icebreakers scheduled to visit northern communities this summer will depart from Victoria, Quebec City and St. John's. The CCGS Pierre Radisson will depart from Quebec City on June 22, and the CCGS Terry Fox from St. John's on the same day. The icebreaking season goes until November. 

Coast guard officials told media that, besides tests, crew will be getting a health screening — including questions and temperature check — for symptoms of COVID-19 before boarding, and will have their temperatures checked every few days.

There have been no cases of COVID-19 within the Canadian Coast Guard to date. 

There is personal protective equipment on board, cleaning and physical distancing will be increased as much as possible. A response plan is ready if COVID-19 is confirmed on board, the coast guard says. 

Nunavut health officials say it's okay for coast guard sailors not to quarantine prior to heading north — where the territory has public health restrictions in place — as long as they don't get off the icebreakers. Crew changes will be contained, "with zero contact between our crews and the community," O'Rourke said.

Nunavut staff in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, have to quarantine

The Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre is already open in Iqaluit. Staff have completed an isolation period and plan to stay in the community until it closes in December. 

The four coast guard staff who work at the inshore rescue boat station in Rankin Inlet will quarantine in Winnipeg before going to the community. Jobs at the station for Inuit youth will still be available. It plans to open on June 17. 

The coast guard has already been in contact with the community.  

"Anyone you see will already have isolated for 14 days before they even show up in Rankin," O'Rourke said. 

Transport Canada restrictions for shipping during the pandemic will likely lead to lower traffic in Arctic waters this summer, "and hopefully also a reduction in search and rescue calls for us," O'Rourke said.  

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