New restrictions imposed as Nunavut goes from 0 to 2 cases of COVID-19

Pangnirtung saw its first two cases of COVID-19 on Monday, according to Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, bringing Nunavut from zero active cases to two.

Health service reductions coming, so keep your circle small, says health minister

Premier P.J. Akeeagok at a news conference in Iqaluit Tuesday. "Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the holiday season especially the Christmas games. But I will not be taking part in any games," he said. (David Gunn/CBC)

Pangnirtung saw its first two cases of COVID-19 on Monday, according to Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, bringing Nunavut from zero active cases to two. 

Patterson asked people to get vaccinated, avoid unnecessary travel, wear masks and keep social circles small over the holidays to avoid further spread. 

He also rescinded a recent public health order that would have allowed for larger gatherings in communities over the holidays. 

Premier P.J. Akeeagok doubled down on that message in a news conference Tuesday. 

"I know many of us were hoping for a more normal Christmas.... As anyone who knows me knows how much I love the holiday season especially the Christmas games. But I will not be taking part in any games," the premier said.

"It's not time to let our guard down. We are seeing rising cases of Omicron across the country and the statistics are alarming."

Any communities planning Christmas games must keep capacity at 50 per cent of the venue or a maximum of 100, whichever is smaller, Patterson said. 

In addition, anyone who travels outside of Nunavut and returns is asked to isolate at home for 14 days even if vaccinated, and avoid all gatherings.

Patterson also warned against travel between communities, saying that travel could be disallowed if more cases emerge, stranding visitors. 

Akeeagok said the best gift Nunavummiut can give each other is good health. 

Public health expects confirmation of the positive test results out of Pangnirtung later Tuesday, but new restrictions in that community go into effect immediately, including restrictions on travel in and out of the community.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, imposed new restrictions in Pangnirtung Tuesday after 2 COVID-19 cases were detected. (Jane George/CBC)

"It is highly unlikely that these are false positive results and we must act accordingly," said Patterson.

"At this time, we do not know which variant this is, but in light of the threat of Omicron, we are tightening public health measures in the community to limit possible spread to other communities. We will know the variant strain within approximately a week."

Patterson said the territory introduced new restrictions in Pangnirtung because of the increased transmissibility of Omicron over other variants. 

"Omicron can spread very quickly even among those who have had two doses of the vaccine," he said, adding that people who have not had their booster should arrange a booster dose. 

If cases are detected in other Nunavut communities, it is likely health authorities will introduce similar travel restrictions. 

In Pangnirtung, the following restrictions are now in effect: 

  • Only essential travel in and out of the community is permitted.
  • Outdoor gatherings are restricted to 50 people.
  • Indoor gatherings in dwellings are limited to 10 people, plus household members.
  • Indoor public gatherings are limited to 25 people or 50 per cent capacity.
  • Gyms and fitness centres are limited to 25 people or 50 per cent capacity
    whichever is less, for solo workouts only.
  • Places of worship are limited to 50 people or 25 per cent capacity, with no
    singing allowed.
  • Arenas are limited to 50 people or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less, plus
    50 spectators.
  • Restaurants are limited to 25 per cent capacity. No karaoke, dancing, or live
  • Group counselling sessions are limited to 10 people.
  • Parks remain open but on-site buildings must close.

Schools can open under these restrictions when classes resume after the holiday break. (Find the complete list of current restrictions across the territory here.)

Healthcare service reductions coming, says Main

Health Minister John Main said Nunavut's health care resources are "stretched" despite the government's work to recruit healthcare workers.

Some health centres will be on emergency-only services over the holidays and some communities will be rolling out vaccines in limited quantities, he said. Vaccinations will resume in 2022 in any communities that see disruptions over the holidays. 

Main linked the staffing challenges to those seen across the country.

Health Minister John Main said the government worked to avoid service reductions in communities for the holidays, but some vaccine programs will be limited. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

"I am asking Nunavummiut to do their part to stay safe from COVID-19 over the holidays," he said.

Main also said he and all Nunavummiut are grateful for healthcare workers in the territory, who have had little time off and may be working over the holidays.

He thanked them "for their sacrifice and dedication to the care of Nunavummiut."

"It's incredible," he said.

What to do if you have symptoms

Anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms is advised to call the COVID hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET or notify their community health centre by phone. 

Please do not go to the health centre in person.

COVID-19 vaccines are available to all Nunavummiut aged 5 and older and boosters are available for anyone 12 years and older. Contact your health centre to make an appointment.