'We need a new approach': Nunavut shifts toward managing COVID-19 like the flu

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok said Nunavut will be following the lead of other jurisdictions in Canada and start lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

Health officials plan to gradually relax COVID-19 restrictions in coming months

Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson. (CBC)

Over the coming months, Nunavut will gradually ease COVID-19 health measures with the goal of eventually managing the virus in a similar way as influenza.

Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson announced the change in approach during a live COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

Akeeagok said the territory has followed the same strategy for the past two years to manage the pandemic — but with what we now know about the virus, and in light of tools like the COVID-19 vaccine, it's time to change that strategy.

"Today, we need a new approach," he said.

"In the next few weeks and months, with Dr. Patterson's guidance, Nunavut will be following the lead of other jurisdictions across Canada and the world."

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He noted that any plans will be designed with the specific needs of the territory in mind.

Patterson said he will be looking at how to move away from mandatory isolation for people exposed to COVID-19. The territory is also moving away from limiting gatherings.

"It's going to be a gradual change where every few weeks we ease a certain area of measures," he said.

He said the territory will keep doing testing and surveillance so it can focus on outbreaks at schools, elder centres and other high-risk facilities.

Restrictions ease next week for 10 more communities

Patterson said as of Feb. 28, the territory will be reducing restrictions in Arctic Bay, Pangnirtung, Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Coral Harbour, Sanikiluaq, Cambridge Bay, Kugaaruk, Resolute Bay and Pond Inlet.

Those communities will be allowed to have outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people, indoor private gatherings of up to 10 people plus household members, and indoor public gatherings of up to 25 people or 50 per cent of the location's capacity.

Other changes will include allowing restaurants and licensed businesses to open at reduced capacity and allowing indoor team sports to resume.

Those measures came into effect in 14 other communities this past Monday.

Cabinet to discuss vaccine mandate for territorial workers

Human Resources Minister Adam Arreak Lightstone said during Tuesday's briefing that he has "initiated the process" for the government to discuss whether to bring in a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for government workers.

Though the Department of Health has a vaccine mandate for its staff, no government-wide mandate exists.

Adam Arreak Lightstone, Nunavut's Minister of Human Resources, says cabinet ministers will be discussing the possibility of a vaccine mandate for government staff soon. (Nunavut Legislative Assembly )

"We have to ensure that we are balancing the rights of our employees with the needs of our public services, and more specifically, those that we provide services to," Arreak Lightstone said.

"It's not something that we can make a decision on lightly."

New subvariant detected

Patterson said a case of the BA.2 strain of the Omicron variant has been detected in Iqaluit, but there is no evidence it is spreading.

The territory has continued to do genome sequencing to figure out what variants and subvariants are present in Nunavut.

"Although this strain spreads more easily than Omicron, it doesn't appear to be any more likely to cause serious infection than Omicron," Patterson said.

There are 310 confirmed cases of COVID-19 present in the territory as of Tuesday morning. That includes one case in Arctic Bay, four in Arviat, five in Baker Lake, three in Cambridge Bay, two in Clyde River, four in Coral Harbour, 25 in Igloolik, 85 in Iqaluit, 10 in Gjoa Haven, four in Kinngait, 26 in Kugaaruk, one in Kugluktuk, eight in Naujaat, 19 in Pangnirtung, 24 in Pond Inlet, three in Qikiqtarjuaq, 40 in Rankin Inlet, four in Resolute Bay, 18 in Sanirijak, three in Sanikiluaq and 21 in Taloyoak.

Patterson said that as of Sunday, 23 Nunavummiut have been hospitalized during this outbreak.