Nunavut's reported COVID-19 case count doubles overnight, hitting 74 total cases

Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, say that the spread of COVID-19 is at a 'breaking point' and transmission must be stopped to protect health care systems.

COVID-19 is now in 8 communities, prompting Nunavut to seek federal assistance

Premier P.J. Akeeagok will provide the latest on how the territory is responding to new cases in at least five Nunavut communities. (David Gunn/CBC)

Nunavut's COVID-19 rising case count is bringing its health care system to a "breaking point," says Premier P.J. Akeeagok.

The Nunavut government is extending its lockdown to Jan. 17, and seeking federal assistance for the health care system and contact tracing.

Akeeagok said COVID-19 is now in eight Nunavut communities, with the reported case count rising from 32 cases to 74 overnight.

There are 25 cases in Iqaluit, 22 in Rankin Inlet, nine in Sanirajak, nine in Pangnirtung, six in Arviat, one in Qikiqtarjuaq, one in Baker Lake and one in Igloolik.

"There is community transmission of COVID-19 in five of our communities. We need everyone to follow all the public health measures to try to get these outbreaks under control," said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer.

"Public health is everyone's responsibility, and your actions determine how our communities will get through this latest wave."

Gatherings not allowed, says chief public health officer

Patterson said gatherings are not allowed right now, no matter your vaccination status.

All K-12 schools will also remain closed until Jan. 17

The spread across communities means frontline workers are "stretched to the max" and that staff are working around the clock to contact trace and test people, said Akeeagok.

"We all need to be community-minded to contain the spread of the pandemic in our territory," he said. 

Akeeagok said even people who are triple vaccinated should not travel within Nunavut or down south, and should avoid gathering outside of their immediate household. 

Nunavut is appealing to the federal government for help responding to the current outbreak, including for additional N-95 masks and more nurses.

The outbreak is made worse by Nunavut's housing shortage, and the territory needs more housing to allow people to isolate at home, said Akeeagok. 

He reminded the public that Pangnirtung had a tuberculosis outbreak followed by a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Missed the press conference? Watch it here.

No gatherings as health care system strained

Akeeagok encouraged Nunavummiut to avoid all gatherings. He said people should stay in touch with elders by calling them, writing to them, and dropping off country food.

"We need to celebrate safely without gathering, once again."

Patterson said that regardless of vaccination status, people should not gather.

Only essential workers will be allowed in government offices. 

COVID-19 cases rose from zero on Dec. 21 up to 74 in just one week, straining contact tracing resources.

Three people have been hospitalized so far, said Patterson.

If the spread cannot be contained, there is a risk of health service reductions in the territory, or that testing and tracing could be compromised and allow for uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, he said. 

The South faces its own testing backlog with the spread of the Omicron variant, said Patterson.

Most communities are flying samples into Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit where they are tested.

Patterson said there is the added concern of travellers returning to Nunavut and bringing new cases of COVID-19 into the territory as Omicron spreads in southern Canada. 

Returning travellers urged to isolate for 14 days

As a response to the jump in cases, strict public health measures will now be in effect Nunavut-wide until at least January 17, and travel restrictions are now in place for Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Sanirajak and Arviat.

Travel to and from those communities is restricted to essential purposes only, and to those returning to their home community or travelling to southern Canada. Non-essential travel, especially between communities in Nunavut, is highly discouraged.

The territory asks people returning to isolate for 14 days upon entry into the territory. This includes teachers who are returning to Nunavut.

Returning travellers are asked to test themselves on day six or seven, and on day 12 or 14. 

A negative self-test does not necessarily mean a person is COVID-19-free, and so even those who test negative should continue to isolate in case they later test positive, said Patterson.

"I must emphasise that these tests are not a replacement for isolation," he said. "Please don't take the risk that this is not COVID-19."

Written by Avery Zingel