Iqaluit reports 1st case of COVID-19, orders closures

Iqaluit has its first case of COVID-19, the government of Nunavut confirmed on Wednesday.

Affected individual is isolating

Health officials are reporting the first case of COVID-19 in Nunavut's capital since the pandemic began. (Natalie Maerzluft/Reuters)

Iqaluit has reported its first case of COVID-19, the government of Nunavut confirmed on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the airline Canadian North confirmed that one of its employees has tested positive for COVID-19 in Iqaluit. At a press conference later that day, Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory's chief public health officer, said the individual was an essential worker who had been in Iqaluit for 16 days, raising the possibility the disease was acquired locally.

Patterson said the affected individual is isolating and doing well. As well, public health officials have initiated contact tracing and are working to identify potential high-risk contacts.

The airline says it is assisting public health officials with contact tracing and says its services remain open and safe for the public, as it is following all safety protocols including regular cleaning and mandating mask wearing.

As a result of the new case, the government is ordering all non-essential businesses and government offices to close effective Thursday at 7 a.m. Schools will close for the rest of the week in the community of roughly 8,000 people, the government said in a statement. On Thursday, the RCMP said it will suspend front-counter services and criminal record checks in Iqaluit.

In addition, masks are now mandatory in the territory's capital.

"We ask residents of Iqaluit to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with other community members, including family members living in different households," Patterson said in a statement.

Indoor gatherings are restricted to a household, plus five, for emergencies only, and outdoor gatherings are limited to five people. All indoor public gatherings are prohibited.

Patterson said more than 2,000 Iqalungmmiut — Iqaluit residents — have received both doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is the only vaccine available in Nunavut. And more than 3,600 have received one dose.

Limits on indoor gatherings

The government is also mandating that anyone who left Iqaluit on, or after April 13, must immediately isolate in their home community for 14 days when they arrive.

In all other Baffin communities and Rankin Inlet, businesses may remain open but "must implement strict social distancing," the release said.

In those communities, the government is limiting indoor gatherings to a household plus 15 people, and outdoor gatherings are restricted to 100 people.

Indoor public gatherings are restricted to 50 people or half capacity, whichever is less.

All schools in Baffin communities and in Rankin Inlet will also now move to Stage 2, in which elementary schools will continue at full capacity, and middle and high schools will reduce classes sizes by half.

Arviat, a community 1,300 kilometres to the west, was the epicentre of an earlier outbreak of COVID-19 in Nunavut, accounting for 339 of the territory's 384 total cases to date. However the community has been without known cases since March 20.