Health officials to lift COVID-19 restrictions in Arviat

The territory's chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson announced that schools and daycares in Arviat can reopen starting Wednesday because there is no evidence of uncontrolled transmission in the community.

Territory had 23 active cases of COVID-19 as of Monday

Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory's chief public health officer, and Premier Joe Savikataaq will take questions at Tuesday's news conference. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Health officials say restrictions in Arviat can start to lift on Wednesday now that there is no evidence that COVID-19 is circulating uncontrolled in the community. Nunavut Chief Public Officer Dr. Michael Patterson issued a statement Tuesday that current circumstances allow for the "gradual" easing of some restrictions.

Starting Wednesday, businesses and workplaces can re-open, but they may delay opening until they are ready, the release states.

Schools can open to stage 3 of the opening plan for Nunavut schools and day cares can open with enhanced cleaning. 

Outdoor gatherings up to 25 people will be allowed. Indoor gatherings in homes are restricted to five people, plus those living in the home. Health officials are recommending that Arviammiut create a two-household bubble.

Anyone who has tested positive with COVID-19 or is identified as a high-risk contact is still required to isolate.

Masks are still mandatory outside of homes, and travel in and out of Arviat is still restricted.

"Please remember that although businesses and offices may open as early as Wednesday, some may need more time to prepare, and may not reopen right away," the release states.

Officials made the decision to lift restrictions in Arviat because they identified links in the outbreak, were able to contact trace in a timely manner and have found no evidence of uncontrolled transmission.

"The vaccine has been made available to all adult residents of Nunavut, making the impact of COVID-19 much less than it was before. From the onset of this pandemic, we said the vaccine would play an important part in Nunavut's path," the release states. 

Officials encouraged anyone who has not been vaccinated yet to make an appointment, and for residents to continue following public health measures like physical distancing and frequent hand-washing. 

"If we work together, we can bring the COVID-19 case count to zero," the release states.

As of Monday evening, the territory had 23 active cases of COVID-19, all in Arviat. The community has been experiencing an ongoing local outbreak of the disease since mid-January. More than 330 residents have contracted COVID-19.

At Tuesday's press conference, Premier Joe Savikataaq acknowledged that after nearly 120 days, the "people of Arviat are quite tired of the lockdown."

He said the hamlet, health department and chief public health officer have been working together and "they know best what the community needs are."

According to the government's website, the territory has dispensed more than 9,200 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 5,400 second doses.

Health officials announced vaccine clinic dates for dozens of communities on Monday.

Patterson said that within the next two weeks Nunavut will receive its final vaccine shipment to meet its goal to vaccinate 75 per cent of adults by the end of March. 

By late April, Nunavut will have completed the majority of second dose clinics, he said. On March 29, Nunavut will announce whether or not it will ease travel restrictions.