Over 1,000 Nunavut residents quarantined so far, government spends nearly $4M

The Nunavut government says there is no set limit on how much money it is prepared to spend on hotels for residents required to isolate before they return home.

More than 300 residents are isolating in hotels now, security is highest expense

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes says the territory has its isolation hubs to thank for keeping COVID-19 out. The government has spent nearly $4 million on the quarantine hotels and related services, and has no plans for when it will stop requiring residents to isolate for two weeks before returning home. (Beth Brown/CBC)

The Nunavut government says it has not set a limit on how much money it is prepared to spend on hotels for residents required to isolate before they return home. 

Health Minister George Hickes said during a press conference on Friday that over 1,000 people have been in isolation so far. As of May 6, the government said that it had spent $3,982,673 on hotel quarantine expenses in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife. 

"We don't have a figure in mind, and we don't have a timeline," he said. "I do consider it a well-placed investment." 

As of Wednesday, 708 people are finished isolating and 314 are in isolation now. 

There remain no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. The government says 291 people are being investigated for symptoms right now, and so far 514 people have been investigated and found clear. Since investigations began, 805 people have been or continue to be investigated for COVID-19. 

Hickes said the southern isolation hotels are one of the main reasons COVID-19 is not in Nunavut. Government staff set up the process for quarantine hubs within 36 hours, he said, so there was not enough time to do competitive bids to find out which hotels would be most cost-efficient to use. 

"It's not like we've given them a blank cheque, but we realize that these costs are an investment," he said. "We want to see some return, I feel that the that return has materialized with the progress that we've made to keep COVID-19 out of Nunavut."

Security costs $1.6M

According to cost estimates provided to CBC News by the territory's Health department on Friday, it's costing the Nunavut government $115 each day for hotel rooms. That adds up to $740,439 on rooms so far. In addition, it's paying $75 each day per person for food, and $32 a day for nursing care. 

Security makes up the largest ticket item in the government's cost estimates. For each person, security guards are costing $112 a day. So far, $1,602,496 in public funds have been spent to monitor Nunavut residents so they don't leave their quarantine rooms unaccounted for. 

The financial management board has so far approved three special warrants for COVID-19 related spending, said Hickes, who is also the Finance minister. 

On Wednesday, the government said it would continue to pay the bill for returning residents to quarantine at southern hotels.

Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said Friday he's not so concerned about the money being spent on isolation, because the impacts of having COVID-19 in multiple Nunavut communities would be far greater. 

Health is his first priority, he said. 

Missed the press conference? Watch it here: 

Patterson said some lightening of current pandemic restrictions could be coming, but it depends on what's happening in the South. 

The first services to open up would be daycares, other service jobs and outdoor work, said Patterson. He added that the parks could open too. Patterson said camping is OK, as long as it's with your household and not done in large groups.

In his opening statement, Premier Joe Savikataaq thanked communities for their own local efforts to keep each other happy and healthy. 


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