'Don't travel here unless absolutely necessary,' says City of Iqaluit

The City of Iqaluit is asking the public not to travel to the city unless absolutely necessary.

Advisory aimed at tourists, and non-essential business travel

A stop sign in English, French and Inuit is seen in Iqaluit, Nunavut on April 25, 2015. The City of Iqaluit is asking the public not to travel to the city unless absolutely necessary. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

The City of Iqaluit is asking the public not to travel to the city unless absolutely necessary.

At an emergency council meeting Sunday afternoon, councillors voted unanimously in favour of the motion to issue the advisory, amid growing concerns over the prospect of the COVID-19 virus spreading to Nunavut.

As of Sunday, no cases have been reported in the territory.

This comes after a recommendation on Friday from the federal government that citizens across Canada avoid non-essential travel outside of the country to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Protecting vulnerable citizens

The discussion around the advisory was mainly aimed at tourists looking to visit Iqaluit in the near future, as well as non-essential business travel. Councillor Simon Nattaq also said the advisory should be passed on to hunters who may be looking to visit Iqaluit.

"We're asking the public, especially visitors to Iqaluit, to not come to Iqaluit for the foreseeable future," Mayor Kenny Bell told CBC News, adding they were going to revisit the advisory in three weeks.

"We just want to make sure that people — if they're coming here for visiting, tourism, maybe a business meeting that could be an email or a phone call — we would ask them not to come."

On Saturday, a slew of cancellations were announced across the city, most notably the cancellation of the popular spring Toonik Tyme festival.

"It's up to people to believe what their emergency is. Obviously if there's a problem with your family, you're going to want to come and be there with them," Bell said.

Bell also noted Iqaluit residents are not being discouraged from returning home. But those who have been travelling are recommended to self-monitor for symptoms, and those who have been abroad in high-risk areas are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

"We want to make sure we're protecting our most vulnerable citizens."

Airport screenings upon arrival

Iqaluit is the central travel hub for the Qikiqtaaluk region, with connecting flights to 10 other Nunavut communities.

At Sunday's emergency meeting, councillors asked about the potential to screen passengers arriving from Ottawa and Montreal (by way of Kuujjuaq) at the airport.

The city's chief administrator officer, Amy Elgersma, told councillors the city had already suggested the idea to Nunavut's department of health — and twice requested it be done. But she said the idea would present its own set of challenges.

"Their response is, the symptoms are not showing, so it's difficult to screen. People can still pass on the virus without symptoms," Elgersma said.

Councillor Romeyn Stevenson also pointed to examples at airports in the United States where passengers are being screened, noting it has created backlogs of arriving passengers trying to move through and out of the airports.

"The only screening they're doing at any airports are looking at where people are coming from. And that's putting a lot of time issues, basically putting people in danger because it's putting people in large groups," Stevenson said.

"There's certainly no way of easily telling if someone ... is sick from the coronavirus, or sick from something else. And you're just creating a problem where people are packed into rooms together and spreading what germs they do have."

About the Author

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.