Nunavut to keep isolation hotels open through December

Nunavut’s government is preparing to keep isolation hotels open for residents returning to the territory until the end of December.

MLAs approve $20 million, minister says the hubs are saving lives

Nunavut Health minister George Hickes says two-week isolation hotels are keeping COVID-19 out of the territory. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Nunavut's government is planning to keep isolation hotels open for residents returning to the territory until the end of December.

And to make that happen, MLA's have approved the spending of another $20 million. 

"I do believe it has saved lives in Nunavut and will continue to save lives," Health minister George Hickes said of the hotels in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife, where all Nunavut residents are spending two weeks before returning home. 

The government has paid for these isolations. 

During a committee meeting at the Legislative Assembly last Friday, a money bill was passed that put $20.2 million toward keeping the isolation hotels running from October until the end of this year. 

Added to another $11.1 million already authorized for the hotels through emergency financial measures, that brings the cost of isolation hotels for Nunavut to $31.3 million. 

"The question has been raised as to how many cases have we caught in the isolation hubs and the fact is it's zero right now that we know of," said Hickes. "And that's the problem with COVID-19 is there are so many people that carry it that are asymptomatic, that don't even know they have it … after 14 days it would be gone or you would be sick."

The government says more than 5,000 people have used isolation hotels so far before travelling to Nunavut. 

About half of the Nunavut residents in isolation are travelling for medical reasons, and the other half for their own reasons. 

Funds for residents and medical travellers to quarantine are part of the government's operations and maintenance budget. 

Money to isolate construction workers

Another money bill also passed during this sitting, which ended Tuesday, approves $7 million in added funds to isolate construction workers for upcoming capital projects. That brings spending for out of territory workers to $25 million in total. 

Hickes says he is expecting travel to increase around the holidays, despite a public health advisory against non-essential travel.  

The government did not put out tenders for the hotels or security companies used, and says it has no plans to do so. 

Hickes says some of the hotels were set up in the span of 36 hours. 

"We don't know when that end date is and we have a relationship with the companies that are there right now," he said. "Staff from those security companies have been working with Nunavummiut now for going on six months."