Nunavut to close border to everyone but residents and critical workers

Nunavut has moved to prohibiting most travel into the territory, following an order by the territory's chief medical officer of health.

All public gatherings are now banned; travel ban takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief medical officer of health. Patterson issued an order stating residents travelling back to Nunavut will need to have proof of residency in order prohibiting most travel into the territory. (CBC)

Nunavut has moved to prohibiting most travel into the territory, following an order by Nunavut's chief medical officer of health. 

It will go into effect on Tuesday, March 24, at 11:59 p.m.

The territory is the only jurisdiction in Canada without a confirmed case of COVID-19, according to Dr. Michael Patterson, and so it's stepping up precautions to slow the spread. 

Residents — though they will have to provide proof of residency in order to board a plane — and critical workers will be allowed into the territory.

As Nunavut is only accessible to the rest of Canada by air, before re-entering, residents will also be required to isolate for 14 days in one of the cities that are entry points to Nunavut: Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife. 

All of a resident's needs during the isolation will be provided, including accommodation and food.

When the mandatory isolation is complete, asymptomatic residents will be cleared to return home. These restrictions also apply to medical travel patients.

Critical workers will need to provide written permission from the chief medical officer in order to fly to Nunavut. If they are coming from within Canada and are asymptomatic, they will be checked by health-care workers and permitted to travel and work in Nunavut. 

Any workers coming from outside Canada will need to complete the 14-day isolation. 

Nunavut will name community if COVID-19 confirmed

Patterson says that the restrictions will be communicated "as loudly and widely" as possible, primarily through the airlines to passengers during a Monday press conference.

The fact that we do not have a case in Nunavut does not mean we are safe.- George Hickes, Nunavut health minister

He also stated that any critical service workers who develop symptoms of any kind will be required to immediately leave work, and nurses and physicians entering the territory will be required to wear a mask for the first few weeks entering the territory.

Patterson said the territory is being aggressive in its testing for the case, "because we want to find it."

"When we find it, we will test as many of the people who have come into contact with that individual," he said.

Yvonne Niego, deputy minister for the Department of Family Services, said that students returning to Nunavut will be isolated for 14 days in Winnipeg or Ottawa before flights are chartered to bring them home. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Unlike the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Patterson confirmed Monday that he will publicly announce which community a case has been identified in, if one is confirmed, in order to lighten the load on the other communities' health systems.

"When I announce a case, there will be 38,000 people in 25 communities who are quite concerned," Patterson said. 

"This is something that I have not done with other communicable diseases. But in order to lighten the load on the other 24 communities, we will announce it."

Students to muster in Ottawa or Winnipeg

Nunavut's post-secondary students and their families who are currently studying outside the territory are being contacted by the government and are preparing to enter isolation in Ottawa or Winnipeg. 

Once the 14-day period is over, charter planes are set to take students directly to their home communities. Students from the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions will go to Winnipeg, while those from the Baffin and Qikiqtani regions will go to Ottawa.

While in isolation, the students will have access to health professionals and tools to complete their studies.

Yvonne Niego, the deputy minister of the Department of Family Services, said affected students are being contacted, and should be "packed and ready."

Student Financial Assistance will also provide for students who choose to stay in their city of study "until the first available arrangements home can be made."

'We need to be vigilant'

In a final preventative measure, Patterson said all public gatherings are now banned in the territory.

He said current efforts of social distancing in the territory have been "variable," and urged residents to stay home.

"Health-care staff are bending over backwards and working quite hard," he said. "It's not unreasonable to ask Nunavummiut, as every other North American has been asked, to stay home if you're sick."

Health Minister George Hickes urged Nunavummiut to take social distancing and self-isolation seriously. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Health Minister George Hickes echoed Patterson in a forceful statement to close the press conference.

"Stay home," he said. "Your life, and your family's lives, depend on it.

"The fact that we do not have a case in Nunavut does not mean we are safe. We are at a breaking point right now. Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant, and take every precaution."

Hickes said the territory can take measures to enforce public health orders to self-isolate — fines as high as $50,000, or up to a year in jail. However, he said the territory's resources are better spent fighting the spread of COVID-19.

"The [Nunavut government] is doing its part to limit the chance of COVID-19 entering the territory within all reasonable and practical limits. The rest is up to you."