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Quebec Cree schools, daycares closed despite low risk, say officials

Education and government officials in the Quebec Cree Nation are falling in step with measures announced Friday by the provincial government to slow the progress of the coronavirus, but say the risk in the territory remains very low.

Cree Nation Government offices in the north open, southern workers can work from home

The Cree School Board has cancelled classes until Mar. 30. Daycares in Cree communities have also been closed for two weeks. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Education and government officials in the Quebec Cree Nation are falling in step with measures announced earlier today by the provincial government to slow the progress of the coronavirus, but say the risk in the territory remains very low.

The Cree School Board announced Friday the closure of all schools until Mar. 30. Daycares throughout the Cree communities will also be closed, according to Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Cree Nation Government.

"We're going to follow the protocol of the Quebec government in terms of closing schools and daycares even though the risk is very, very low," said Namagoose. 

Quebec Premier François Legault announced Friday that all schools, universities, daycares and colleges (CEGEPS) in Quebec will be closed for two weeks starting Monday. The Quebec government is banning all indoor events with more than 250 people. 

Changing the Cree expression

Namagoose also said he wants to see a change in the way the coronavirus is described in the Cree language, as he thinks it's needlessly causing people to panic. 

'The risk is very, very low,' said Bill Namagoose, the executive director of the Cree Nation Government. (Cree Nation Government)

The Cree expression that has been used to describe COVID-19 is translated into "something that is blowing in the wind," according to Namagoose.

"It's not airborne," said Namagoose, adding health officials and others are being advised to change the way they talk about coronavirus in Cree. 

"It's transmitted or passed on by like a regular cold."

Travel restrictions

Namagoose also said the Cree government has suspended all international travel by staff and has advised employees not to travel outside the country for personal reasons. Employees who travelled before Friday's announcement will be paid for the 14 days, but employees who now decide to vacation internationally will not, according to Namagoose.

Cree Nation offices in the south will also follow the provincial government protocol and allow some employees to work from home, but in the territory it's business as usual. 

"For our offices located in the Cree territory it will be regular offices hours and [employees] will be required to work in their office," said Namagoose, adding all measures will be revisited regularly. 

The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay announced on Friday the postponement of the Eeyou Eenou Health Assembly until further notice. It was planned from Mar. 31 to Apr. 3 in the Cree community of Chisasibi.

The federal government announced Thursday it is prepared to use isolation tents and temporary shelters to deal with the threat of an outbreak of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities, but Namagoose said there are no plans — or need — for that in the Cree communities at this time.

A committee made up of Namagoose and the executive directors of the Cree School and Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay has been created and will meet at least once a week, possibly more. 

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