Nunavut easing some COVID-19 restrictions starting Monday

Territory-wide health measures were "effective," said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson. In a live update Thursday, government officials also said a shortage of health staff mean some communities aren't giving out COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccines are 'paused' in some communities because of a lack of health workers to give the shots

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok speaks to media in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly on Jan. 13, 2022, where it was announced the territory will be easing some public health restrictions beginning Monday. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Nunavut will lift some territory-wide COVID-19 health restrictions starting Monday.

During a live update Thursday morning, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said that among other changes, community travel restrictions will be lifted, indoor gatherings can resume with up to five people aside from household members, and most non-essential businesses can reopen.

Masks are still required in all communities, and the territory is still discouraging non-essential travel.

Patterson said it isn't likely the territory will go into another lockdown, though there is the possibility of community-specific measures in the future depending on how the COVID-19 situation unfolds.

"We're really only easing [measures] a little bit, and [we're] still fairly tight compared to much of the country," he said.

"Living under the most stringent measures for a long period of time, when people are fairly well vaccinated — it doesn't make sense. It's not something we could defend continuing on much longer."

Missed the update? Watch it here:

Twenty-five people will be allowed at outdoor gatherings.

Government offices, childcare facilities, Inuit organizations and other offices can reopen. Restaurants are still limited to take-out only.

Schools will still reopen Jan. 24.

Other changes include:

  • Long-term care and elders' facilities may have one visitor per resident, but masks are mandatory.
  • Indoor public gatherings, including community halls and recreation centres will be limited to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity.
  • Gyms and fitness centres can open to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity for solo workouts only; no group sessions.
  • Libraries and galleries can open to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity.
  • Places of worship are permitted up to 50 people or 25 per cent capacity; no
    singing allowed.
  • Arenas can have up to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, as well as 25
    spectators. No team sports allowed.
  • Taxis may have one fare per trip, with mandatory masks.
  • Group counselling sessions are open to 10 people.
  • Parks and playgrounds may open, but buildings remain closed.

Vaccines paused in some communities

The news came as Health Minister John Main confirmed his department has had to pause vaccinations in "various communities" because there aren't enough health workers to administer the shots.

Main answered questions during Thursday's live briefing, alongside Patterson, Premier P.J. Akeeagok, Education Minister Pamela Gross and Community and Government Services Minister David Joanasie.

During a news conference Jan. 13, Nunavut Health Minister John Main said a shortage of health care workers means the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines has been paused in some communities. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Main said he could not answer specifics, or provide the exact communities where this is happening, but said the pausing of vaccines began during the holidays and is still continuing.

Main also said that staffing shortages mean there are 10 Nunavut communities whose health centres are only providing emergency services.

He added his department is planning to roll out some mass vaccination clinics later this month across the territory.

"It is a big concern for me, in terms of the delays in vaccinations, because we know the threat of Omicron is very real and we know vaccines have real benefits," he said.

As for the Nunavut government's appeal for staff from the federal government, Main said that hasn't seen results yet.

"As it sits today, on the human resources front, we're still waiting for a response from our federal partners."

Akeeagok said the territory has received federal aid in the way of rapid testing kits, N95 masks and ventilation in schools, but he shares Main's concern about the lack of health care resources.

"Our officials have been advancing these very issues every day, and that's something I'm really hoping we can address as we move forward," he said.

Funding for municipalities, businesses

Akeeagok announced new funding for municipalities as well as small businesses on Thursday.

The territory is providing $4 million in COVID-19 support to municipalities, with help from the federal government.

"These funds will help our municipalities provide critical services to Nunavummiut, in addition to efforts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

Joanasie said the money is meant to support essential operations, such as water and sewer services that everyone needs.

A news release Thursday morning included a breakdown of how much money is going to each community, based on their size and the scope of their municipal operations.

There will also be money available for artists, craftspeople, retailers and harvesters, who can apply for up to $5,000 in support.

Akeeagok said the territory is also rolling out almost $4.5 million to bolster its food hamper program.

A news release from the Nunavut government Thursday morning noted that program is meant to help Nunavummiut who have to isolate due to COVID-19. It could take a few days for people to get their hampers, due to the volume of requests.

The latest on COVID-19

Patterson said the number of hospitalizations in Nunavut hasn't changed. There have been seven people hospitalized due to COVID-19 during this outbreak of the Omicron variant.

Nunavut Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said the territory is only easing public health measures "a little bit." He added it's unlikely the territory will go into another lockdown, though there is the possibility of community-specific measures in the future depending on how the COVID-19 situation unfolds. (Steve Silva/CBC)

As of Thursday morning, there were 172 cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut:

  • 20 in Arviat;
  • 8 in Baker Lake;
  • 10 in Cambridge Bay;
  • 5 in Chesterfield Inlet;
  • 38 in Iqaluit;
  • 17 in Kinngait;
  • 8 in Pangnirtung;
  • 1 in Pond Inlet;
  • 4 in Qikiqtarjuaq;
  • 38 in Rankin Inlet;
  • 1 in Sanikiluaq;
  • 6 in Sanirajaq;
  • 7 in Whale Cove.

There is also one presumed case that's still being confirmed in Taloyoak.

The territory reported 26 more people have recovered from COVID-19.

Patterson said by the end of the coming weekend, the territory should be able to report accurate case counts for COVID-19 again, which will include rapid test results as well as lab results.