Gatherings of more than 5 people prohibited in Nunavut, as gov't clarifies COVID-19 rules

The government of Nunavut is clarifying the rules around how Nunavummiut are expected to operate under the public health emergency. 

Gatherings are defined as all public or private events from concerts to dinners in private homes

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer worked with the territory's Department of Justice to clarify the rules to follow while Nunavut is under a declared public health emergency. (Beth Brown/ CBC )

The government of Nunavut is banning all gatherings of more than five people in the territory as part of an updated public health order issued Friday to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The new order replaces a previous one prohibiting mass gatherings that came into effect on March 23 and lays out specific information about which businesses can and cannot operate.

It's designed to help peace officers and RCMP interpret the rules, should their involvement be necessary, according to Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Michael Patterson. Their involvement should be the exception and not the norm, Patterson said during a Monday news briefing to discuss the situation in the territory. 

"We recognized the need to provide clearer definitions," he said. Patterson worked on the order with the Department of Justice. 

Gatherings are defined as any organized events including concerts, weddings and funerals. 

It also applies to private gatherings in homes, such as shared meals or kids' playdates with individuals who do not live together. He asked that Nunavummiut still try to avoid contact with those they don't live with. 

Across the country, Patterson said the consensus seems to be that groups of five are about as low as governments can reasonably go in prohibiting gatherings. 

The order will remain in effect until either COVID-19 comes to Nunavut and stricter orders are required or the risk is brought under control and things can begin opening up again.

Business operations

The order also clarifies things for businesses. Hair salons and massage therapists must remain closed. Dentists and psychologists also fall under this closure, except in the case of an emergency. 

Restaurants and bars can operate take-out and delivery services, but only if their setup allows customers to respect the two-metre physical distancing requirements. 

Businesses which are large enough to allow customers inside if they can keep that two-metre distance can remain open. This applies to grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, fuel and motor vehicle businesses and post offices. 

Bonfire pits and picnic areas in territorial and municipal parks are closed, along with playgrounds.

Visitors are also not permitted at long term care homes or medical boarding homes. 

The order does not apply to essential government services or businesses that have designated essential workers and implemented a work-from-home policy for non-essential staff.

Physical distancing should continue, premier says 

It's been six weeks since Nunavummiut have been experiencing closures and social isolation because of COVID-19 and Premier Joe Savikataaq said those restrictions need to stay in place. 

"Don't visit so much," he told CBC News on Monday. "If we continue [physical] distancing and if there is a positive case, the spread would be limited."

As of Monday, 227 people are under investigation for COVID-19 in Nunavut, and 323 people await results. 

"It takes too long from when a person gets samples sent out until you get the results," he said. That wait time is still about a week. 

The government announced on Friday that all Nunavut Arctic College buildings will stay closed until the fall, including residences. It's asking students to return home by early May.  

The government wants the construction season to go ahead as usual but has no decision yet on if construction workers are critical workers. If they aren't, they'll have to quarantine before coming to Nunavut to work.