North

Worries loom in the Beaufort Delta region as travellers return to N.W.T.

With the N.W.T. border shut down to most inbound travellers, smaller communities are still concerned.

'There's too many loopholes to get into the community,' says Nunakput MLA

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Erwin Elias is happy to hear the N.W.T. has closed its borders to non-residents, but still has concerns about enforcement. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

With the N.W.T. border shut down to most inbound travellers, smaller communities are still concerned.

Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola announced that borders are closed to non-essential travel starting Saturday. The same day, the N.W.T. reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

"It was very good to hear because it was something that a lot of people wanted around here," said Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Erwin Elias.

Elias said although only N.W.T. residents and essential workers can come into the territory, he's still worried for his small community.

"The big question now is ... who is going to be enforcing it now?" said Elias. "Is there somebody at the border? I don't know."

These are questions that many have.

We know from our history that we are not very good when diseases hit us.- Erwin Elias, Tuktoyaktuk mayor

In an emailed response, a representative with the N.W.T. government said individuals have been "deputized as Peace Officers" and are at the borders checking who is coming into the territory, and providing rules and information.

Travellers returning to the Beaufort Delta region from outside the territory must self-isolate in Inuvik for 14 days before returning home. Individuals don't need to self-isolate if they are returning from within the territory.

Inuvik Mayor Natasha Kulikowski said there's a registration desk at the Inuvik Airport once travellers get off the plane.

Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson says that he's been individually calling constituents and telling them to self-isolate. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Travellers are asked whether they've completed their self-isolation plan, what community they are from, whether they have "isolation readiness at home," and if they require to stay at a hotel for 14 days.

In Inuvik, the third floor of the Mackenzie Hotel is where stranded Beaufort Delta residents can stay. They are provided three meals a day, and no visitors are allowed.

Complaints of people not social distancing

Kulikowski also wanted to make a point to tell residents that she received complaints over the weekend of people not properly social distancing, and that needs to change.

"Inuvik residents need to stop gathering, stop socializing at each other's homes," she said. "Social gatherings at the cabin can be as destructive and unsafe."

She said that kids shouldn't be at the parks, and grocery store visits should be quick and not a way to socialize.

Jackie Jacobson, MLA for the Nunakput region, has been getting calls from constituents that are concerned recent travellers are not following the rules and lack of enforcement at the Inuvik airport.

"There's too many loopholes to get into the community ... I've been phoning people directly myself making sure they are self-isolating," Jacobson said.

Jacobson is hoping for a list from the government of people in his riding that have recently travelled.

"The communities should be looked at differently. We should be more of a priority because we are so small," said Jacobson.

Little resources to isolate in Tuktoyaktuk

Although municipal governments don't have the authority to prevent people from coming into communities, Jacobson and Elias both said they have sent in an amendment request last week to Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Paulie Chinna so Tuktoyaktuk can have more authority to govern the community.

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Elias said the community has four nurses. At an interagency meeting, they were told by the head nurse and a regional health representative that the health centre only has room to isolate one person, he said.

"That was really startling for everybody," he said. "That's why it's really important that we try to contain this and deal with the borders."

Elias noted that Kittigazuit — an area near Tuktoyaktuk where Inuvialuit used to gather over 100 years ago — was hit hard by epidemics like the Spanish flu.

"That almost wiped out all the Inuvialuit, so people are more sensitive here because of that," he said. "We know from our history that we are not very good when diseases hit us."