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COVID-19 outbreak at Nunavut's Hope Bay mine at 10 cases but 'contained,' government says

Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says there are now 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Hope Bay mine, with another 6 presumptive cases, but has declared the outbreak "contained."

Travel to and from mine resumes, cases to be counted in workers' home provinces

Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson and the territory's Health minister held a media briefing Thursday morning. Patterson says the COVID-19 outbreak at Hope Bay mine is 'contained.' (Beth Brown/CBC )

Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says there are now 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Hope Bay mine, with another six presumptive cases, but has declared the outbreak "contained."

Travel to and from the mine, which was halted earlier this week, has resumed, and only people considered "high-risk contacts" remain in isolation. They're expected to be cleared within the week. The remainder of the staff are lower risk and cleared for travel, with a less than one per cent chance of developing COVID-19.

A rapid response team arrived this week and is working to complete testing and tracing. The team is leaving Thursday and will spend the next 14 days in isolation.

The government faced criticism this week from an employee at the Hope Bay gold mine. The employee said anxiety and depression is growing among workers trapped at Hope Bay mine.

But Patterson said the travel restrictions were vital to contain the spread of the virus not only within the mine, but elsewhere in Canada.

Late last month, two cases were confirmed at the mine, located 125 kilometres southwest of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

Both people were identified as being exposed in their home jurisdictions prior to travel, but that wasn't identified until after they arrived at the mine site, according to Patterson.

This week, seven more cases were announced at the mine.

Nunavut's Health minister has assured Nunavummiut that risk to residents remains low. 

Stopping spread a responsibility for all

Asked if there was any evidence of the mine's employees not following COVID-19 protocols prior to the outbreak, Patterson said it's been a common theme in the rapid response team's investigation.

"The management has already committed to reviewing and revising their infection control measures and finding ways to ensure those standards are maintained at all times to minimize the chance of [an outbreak] happening again and spreading as far as it did, should it happen," Patterson said.

"I think it's too soon to get into laying blame on any one organization. There's government responsibility, there's corporate responsibility, and there's also personal responsibility to minimize the chance of an outbreak like this happening and spreading as far as it did."

Mine will bring rapid testing to site

More than half of the mine's staff will fly South tomorrow, Jason Neal, president for TMAC Resources told CBC News. The rest, who are either finishing isolation or who are essential staff needed over the weekend, will go home early next week. 

More cleaning staff will also come to the mine site. 

Neal said the mine decided to do a ten-day embargo of all travel in and out of the mine under the guidance of Nunavut public health. 

"One of the reasons that everybody didn't go out immediately is that there's been extensive contact tracing, to make sure that we have identified everybody who is infected at the site," he said. 

TMAC says it will bring rapid testing onsite by the time a new crew arrives next week. It used to have testing done in Edmonton before crew left for the mine, but Neal says the mine wasn't happy with that set up and began a process of choosing another provider. 

He said safety procedures and equipment for the pandemic were in place already. Before beginning production again, the mine is planning to provide workers with education about COVID-19 safety precautions. Safety is part of mining culture, Neal said. 

The mine has also hired a medical professional as an advisor.

Still no cases

Nunavut remains the only territory or province in Canada without a COVID-19 case since the onset of the pandemic. As of Thursday, the government says it is following 523 people, bringing the total number of tests 3,159.

In the cases of the positive COVID-19 cases at the Hope Bay mine, Patterson said Nunavut's epidemiology team negotiated with other jurisdictions to have those cases reported from their home provinces.

This week, the government eased restrictions for indoor gatherings, restaurants, bars and fitness classes in the territory.

Patterson also announced Halloween "is a go" this year. He said the government will release guidelines on its website for communities on how to trick-or-treat safely.

Isolation hubs may fill during Christmas holidays

While the government reiterated all non-essential travel is discouraged, Patterson said there may be a waitlist at the tail end of the Christmas holidays if Nunavummiut ignore the advice and head South.

Patterson said the government doesn't plan to increase the number of spaces available in the hubs.

Still, Patterson said he doesn't see as many people travelling this year as cases across Canada continue to rise.

Miss the live press conference? Watch it here:

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