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Nunavut government reverses plan to have residents pay for own hotel quarantine

The government of Nunavut will continue to pay for residents to quarantine in hotels before returning to the territory.

Premier says travel is a risk, apologizes for confusion

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq says the government will continue to pay for residents to isolate in specific hotels in the south for 14-days when they want to return home. He urged people to avoid non-essential travel. (Beth Brown/CBC )

The government of Nunavut will continue to pay for residents to quarantine in hotels before returning to the territory. 

Starting Thursday, May 7, the government was going to ask residents to pay for their own mandatory two-week stay in a southern hotel before they could come home. That cost, to be paid in advance, was $2,100 for one person and another $1,050 for each additional person. 

But Premier Joe Savikataaq says that's not happening anymore.

"Travel at this time is a risk and we don't want to undo all the hard work we have done," he said, and apologized for the confusion. He said the government doesn't want to financially burden Nunavummiut right now. 

Since March 25, anyone travelling into Nunavut was required to quarantine first for two weeks. The governments has been paying that bill, and has spent around $2,000,000 so far on hotels, food and security for residents.

Finance Minister George Hickes said billing and processing payments from private residents was going to be too difficult. 

"At this time as a cabinet we felt it wasn't worth pursuing."

Health officials are still recommending residents avoid all non-essential travel, but travel is not currently restricted. 

"The intention was to deter travelling," Hickes said. "Going down to do your sealift is not essential travel."

Hickes said isolating returning residents in hotels in Yellowknife, Ottawa, Edmonton and Winnipeg, along with questionnaires for essential workers to come into Nunavut, are still considered a good idea. The government says they will continue to require people to do these quarantines.

There are now no known cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut.

As of Wednesday, Savikataaq says 326 people are being investigated for COVID-19, while 452 people are cleared.

Nunavut recovers from false positive

Wednesday's news conference comes after a whirlwind time where the territory learned last week that it had its first case of COVID-19. But on Monday, that case was found to be a false positive.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said the biggest learning curve from responding to that purported case had to do with communicating with the community health centre, the hamlet and the rapid response health team, as well as the public, all at once.

Missed the news conference? Watch it here.  

He said the Nunavut Health Department will do more to make sure that community services, like grocery stores, have the safety equipment they need too. 

"For future rapid response teams we will bring in a supply of cloth masks, so we can support essential staff and the stores staying open," Patterson said.  

He urged people to keep practicing physical distancing and to avoid being with people outside of a household. 

"As a territory we have done well so far, however we cannot let our celebration lead to complacency," Patterson said.

Premier apologizes to Nunavut teachers 

Nunavut's premier offered another apology during the news conference.

On Monday, in response to a question from a reporter about teacher retention, Savikataaq said that Nunavut could try to recruit teachers from Ontario where layoffs have happened. 

"The Department of Education is always on the recruit for new teachers and September is still a few months away," Savikataaq said then. "There was an announcement earlier in the year where Ontario was going to lay off a whole bunch of teachers. Maybe those teachers will want to come and work in Nunavut." 

On Wednesday, he apologized, saying, "My comment about the recruitment of teachers was careless." 

Teachers in Nunavut have been back in their communities to work since April 21, making homework packages and checking in with parents. The government asked all teachers who had gone south when schools closed to return, and to do the two-week hotel quarantine first. 

"I want all our teachers to know how much we  appreciate them," Savikataaq said. "Please don't let my unfortunate comments discourage you." 

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