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What you need to know about getting home to Nunavut during this pandemic

Most people returning to the territory will first have to isolate at a quarantine centre in Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg or Yellowknife.

Nunavut's chief medical officer of health asks for patience, cooperation from travellers

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief medical officer of health speaks at a daily press conference on COVID-19. Travellers returning to Nunavut have to quarantine at an approved hotel for 14 days. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Nunavummiut who want to come back home during the territory's current travel ban will have to abide by the government's strict quarantine rules. 

For most, that means spending two weeks in isolation at a quarantine centre in one of four gateway cities. Those are Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Yellowknife. 

"The goal of this work is to bring Nunavummiut home without introducing COVID-19 to their community or their loved ones," Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief medical officer of health, said in a daily press conference Wednesday.

Under a travel ban that started Tuesday, only Nunavut residents and critical workers are allowed to enter Nunavut. 

Anyone who isn't cleared to come into Nunavut as a critical worker has to isolate at specific hotels. They can't stay anywhere else. People who don't want to do the government's mandatory quarantine have to stay in the south. 

"For example, in Ottawa, somebody who wants to come to Iqaluit will need to go to that hotel in Ottawa, stay there for 14 days, self-isolating in the room the majority of the time," said Patterson. "They will have their food brought to them so they don't have to eat in a communal setting, they will have short periods where they'll be allowed to get out of the building for short periods for fresh air."

As of Thursday, 206 people had applied to return as residents. Of those, 161 had applied to enter Nunavut as critical workers.

How to start your quarantine

To find out how to start a quarantine, you must email a travel request form to CPHOtravelrequests@gov.nu.ca, and await instruction. The form is on the Nunavut government's COVID-19 main page under the Department of Health. 

Students should email fans@gov.nu.ca.

Medical travellers need to contact the medical travel office to book their isolation. This is the same process used to book any medical travel.

Around six staff members are managing these emails and forms. You can expect a response within 24 hours. Critical workers may be prioritized. 

Patterson asked for patience. 

"We understand people wish to know as soon as possible where they are going," he said.  

The Iqaluit airport in 2017. Under a travel ban that started Tuesday, only Nunavut residents and critical workers are allowed to enter Nunavut for the time being. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

The names of the four hotels are not being released to avoid having people show up at those places in large groups, unannounced. 

"We will not be able to have Nunavummiut return safely and efficiently if this happens," said Patterson.   

Medical travel patients also need to isolate. Only essential appointments are happening right now. 

For the general public, hotels and food will be paid for. 

"We are paying for the part of this that is inconveniencing them," said Patterson. "All those extra expenses above what they would have already paid." 

Nunavut airlines have waived change fees.

Second quarantine upon arrival in Nunavut not required

At the end of 14 days, residents will be taken to the airport to board a scheduled flight. People will have to give the airline a letter from the Health Department that says they are cleared to board, as well as proof of residency. 

Residents do not have to quarantine again in Nunavut. 

People who are quarantined in the south and have to overnight in Yellowknife on the way home don't need to repeat a quarantine, but they are asked to be careful and stick to social distancing rules for that layover.

Travellers who arrived in Nunavut as of March 15 are required to stay in isolation, and not run errands. 

Plans are being made so that people who have isolated can get through airport security without the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Travelling critical workers will either be separated from other passengers or flown separately. 

"We have at least 14 days to sort that out," Patterson said.

Who is a critical worker?

The department is still building a list of critical workers. They are not the same as essential workers. Right now, airline staff, water truck drivers and grocery store workers are critical, as are health care professionals and medevac staff. 

"We can't afford to make a blanket ban on health-care workers" and still have a functioning health-care system, said Patterson. 

Those workers will have to apply for clearance and present it to the airline before travel. There is a separate form for critical workers on the Health Department's website. 

They need to share three weeks of travel history, an employer statement that says they are not showing symptoms, explain why they are a critical worker and what plans they have for how to self-isolate outside of work hours.

We can't afford to make a blanket ban on healthcare workers- Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief medical officer of health

Every health-care worker who has come to Nunavut in the last week is wearing a mask to work for 14 days. 

When they are off duty, they are self-isolating and reporting to their managers daily to make sure they are free of symptoms.

Travellers returning to Canada from another country and who have any symptoms of illness cannot come back to Nunavut until they are tested and free of symptoms and are cleared to travel by Nunavut's Health Department. 

The same goes for domestic travellers.

If you have recently travelled and believe you may have symptoms of COVID-19, you can call 867-975-8601 or 1-888-975-8601 between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. any day of the week. 

Premier Joe Savikataaq urged people in all Nunavut communities to heed self-isolation rules. He called it a "civic duty," and said doing otherwise is "irresponsible" and "selfish."

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story stated, based on information from the Nunavut government, that 206 people had applied to enter Nunavut, on top of 161 critical workers. The government later clarified that 206 people in total had applied, including 161 critical workers.
    Mar 27, 2020 12:29 PM CT

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