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Nunavut premier defends trip to retrieve personal plane, isolating at cabin rather than hotel

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq is defending a trip to Winnipeg earlier this month to retrieve his personal float plane, in which he was allowed to forego the two-week isolation measures in one of the southern hubs.

Joe Savikataaq flew from Winnipeg to his cabin, 85 kilometres from Arviat, where he isolated for 14 days

Premier Joe Savikataaq speaks at an update on government response to COVID-19 at the Legislative Assembly. He said the plan to allow him to isolate at his cabin saved public tax dollars, and freed up a spot at an isolation hub. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq is defending a trip he took to Winnipeg earlier this month to retrieve his personal float plane, in which he was allowed to forego the two-week quarantine protocols in one of the southern hubs.

Generally, people under quarantine stay in hubs, or hotels — but instead, Savikataaq flew directly from Winnipeg to his personal cabin 85 kilometres outside his home community of Arviat, according to his office.

He had been isolating at his cabin alone since July 4 without having any visitors, his office said.

On Saturday, Savikataaq returned to Arviat after the 14-day stay, drove directly to the local health centre where a nurse examined him and gave the "all clear."

The plan was approved by a public health team, independently of Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, "to ensure an unbiased review," his office said.

"Quarantining at the Winnipeg isolation hub would not have worked in my case, as I wasn't travelling commercially, and wasn't able to guarantee all necessary public health measures between the hub and the private airport," Savikataaq said in a statement.

"This plan allowed me to be completely alone for 14 days, ensure a spot was open at the Winnipeg hub for another traveller and save valuable public dollars. I was also able to stay in touch with colleagues and connected to work, and allow myself some time to reset and refocus."

'Why doesn't he isolate in Winnipeg like everybody else?'

Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie said she's received complaints from constituents over the plan.

"It does concern me. Because why should one person get an exemption to fly directly to his cabin?" Towtongie said.

"Why doesn't he isolate in Winnipeg like everybody else?"

Asked whether she accepts Savikataaq's rationale of saving public dollars and freeing up a spot in the isolation hubs, Towtongie said the government, and more specifically cabinet, should be following their own rules.

"That's a very clever justification for him. Let's pretend it's not the premier and somebody else. How did they decide not to spend public money in this case? The Public Health Act is for every one of us," Towtongie said.

"I like the premier. I'm not saying anything personally. But even us regular MLAs have to follow what the cabinet decided in terms of isolation. He should follow what [was] decided."

Towtongie questioned whether this offer was available to others in the interest of saving public dollars.

The Department of Health was unable to accommodate an interview Friday, or throughout the weekend, to answer questions on the approved plan.

The department instead deferred questions to the government's COVID-19 press conference scheduled for Monday.

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