Canada sends $19M to Nunavut for emergency pandemic response

After cases of COVID-19 swept through the Kivalliq region, Canada says it is sending "immediate assistance" to Nunavut communities.

Prime Minister says northern communities being considered for early vaccination

Arviat, in Nunavut's Kivalliq region, is among the communities in the territory that have been hit hardest by COVID-19. On Wednesday, the federal government announced it is providing Nunavut with immediate funding to help address the pandemic. (Submitted by Dylan Clark)

After cases of COVID-19 swept through the Kivalliq region, Canada says it's sending "immediate assistance" to Nunavut communities.

On Wednesday, the federal government committed $19.36 million to the COVID-19 response in Nunavut. 

"The cases in the Kivalliq these past weeks have been of real concern. We are working closely with the premier and with the territory to make sure everyone has the supports they need," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday.

As of Thursday, there are 150 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. The majority of cases are in Arviat, a central Nunavut community of around 2,650 people, where community transmission is happening. 

There are also cases in nearby communities of Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove. Saniqiluaq is being monitored because of two previous cases.

So far, five Nunavummiut have recovered, and no new cases are being reported on Thursday. 

The money is being rapidly transferred to get support where it is needed on the ground. Trudeau said Ottawa won't be telling Nunavut how to use the funds. 

"Our job is to be there to support, while you fight this terrible virus," he said, calling this "a difficult and scary time for people."

Nunavut led spending of rapid funds

Of the new federal money, $11.36 million will go to the Government of Nunavut — $6.5 million of which will help municipalities with testing, medical supplies and personnel, cleaning and security, and transportation for food, water and sewage.

There is also $1.8 million earmarked for food support for families in isolation; $1.3 million to expand internet bandwidth for remote health care and education; and $1 million will go toward non-medical masks, household cleaner and hand sanitizer. 

Premier Joe Savikataaq said in a statement that the virus is testing the territory's 'limited resources and capacity.' (Jackie McKay/CBC)

The remainder will be used for distance learning in the Kivalliq region, as well as daycares and early learning programs.

The territorial Inuit association Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the regional Kivalliq Inuit Association will received $8 million together. 

Of that, there is $6 million for food security and household support, including breakfast and lunch programs in communities experiencing outbreaks and in communities where schools are closed. 

The other $2 million is for land programing and food harvesting. 

In a news conference Wednesday, Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said he expects cases will keep rising in the coming weeks. 

Nunavut is currently in a territory-wide lockdown.

On-the-land social distancing helps mental health 

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller acknowledged that Nunavut has "unique needs" right now. 

"Additional assistance is urgently needed for food and social supports, municipal services such as water truck delivery, security, and non-medical personal protective equipment to keep people safe," a Wednesday news release from Indigenous Services Canada said. 

Kivalliq Inuit Association president Kono Tattuinee said the money will help families in overcrowded homes to social distance, by spending more time on the land. This also supports mental health for young people, he said in the news release. 

"COVID-19 has hit the Kivalliq region quickly and is testing our limited resources and capacity," Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq said in a statement. "[The federal government's] immediate financial assistance in response to the outbreak, and their swift action to provide support where we need it is truly appreciated."

People wear masks at a grocery store to help slow the spread of COVID-19 as the territory of Nunavut is in the midst of a two week mandatory restriction period. On Thursday, the territory reported there were a total of 150 active cases of the virus with no new cases that day. (Natalie Maerzluft/REUTERS)

PM says Indigenous voices included in vaccine planning

Trudeau said it was clear to his government from the beginning of the pandemic that the North would be vulnerable.

With no cases confirmed until this month, he called Nunavut's efforts "well managed."

When vaccines do become available, he said, vulnerable groups will be first in line. A panel of experts is making decisions about who should get vaccines first and there are Indigenous voices on that panel, he added. 

"Because of the challenges faced by northern communities, I can't imagine that they won't be amongst the top priority groups," Trudeau said. 

This new money considered, the federal government says it has allocated $105 million to support Nunavut since the beginning of the pandemic. 

"We are working across departments as well as with the Territorial government and Inuit partners to ensure we have a coordinated and targeted response to the rising number of cases in Nunavut," Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal said in a statement Thursday.

In an update Thursday from the Nunavut Health Department, Patterson said people confirmed as recovered are safe to come out of isolation and "resume activities while following current public health restrictions."

With files from Pauline Pemik