Nunavut leaders say be kind as Pond Inlet wrestles with territory's 1st COVID-19 case

James Arreak, the mayor of Pond Inlet, said the community needs to come together and help each other and that it is doing that. 

Community enacts stricter lockdown measures to prevent virus spread

Joshua Arreak, the mayor of Pond Inlet, says Nunavut's first confirmed COVID-19 case is not a time to panic. (Submitted by Joshua Arreak)

The mayor of Pond Inlet got a phone call early Thursday morning, telling him the night before a member of his community was the first in Nunavut to test positive for COVID-19. 

Joshua Arreak said he was caught off guard. 

"We are feeling for the family, as well as the community. It was very unexpected and we are trying to comply [with] all that is required from us from the medical doctor[s]," Arreak said. 

The person began feeling ill last week and was tested on April 23. They were already self-isolating when their test result came back positive. 

The community immediately began to take further lockdown measures. All scheduled Canadian North flights to the community — aside from cargo flights — are paused for at least the next two weeks, according to a press release from the airline. 

Canadian North is working with the government of Nunavut to determine when it will be safe to restart regular flights. Until then, passenger travel deemed essential will be coordinated through chartered flights with the airline and the territorial government.

Flights to other communities will continue but flight times to Clyde River may be adjusted because of this change, the release said. 

Stores closed

Stores in Pond Inlet were closed on Thursday but plan to reopen Friday at 10 a.m. with limits on the number of people allowed in at a time, according to Facebook posts. 

Joe Savikataaq, Nunavut's premier, asked Nunavummiut to keep up physical distancing and to be kind. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

There were initial plans to hold a town meeting, Arreak said, but those plans were vetoed for local emergency radio programming, which was deemed safer. 

A rapid response team of public health nurses arrived in the community Thursday afternoon and are helping with containment and tracing who the person may have been in contact with. 

Before their arrival, 20 people were identified and their swabs are now in Iqaluit being tested. 

Leaders call for compassion

"We don't need to panic right now. Inuit have experienced many deaths, by accidents, or by tragedies and that death is right at the door all the time. We need to survive," Arreak said. 

He said the community needs to come together and help each other, and it's doing just that. 

Arreak's call for compassion was echoed by Nunavut's chief public health officer in a press conference the government held Thursday morning. 

"One of the reasons why we are not discussing details about the individual is to respect their privacy and protect them from stigma, shame, blame and physical threat," Michael Patterson said. 

Pond Inlet has been manually extracting water from its reservoir. Hamlet employees drill a hole in the ice then reverse the water pump to extract water from the lake. Parts to allow them to pump from the shore are expected in the community soon. (Submitted by David Stockley)

The premier of the territory, who also asked Nunavummiut to keep up physical distancing, also shared his wish for kindness. 

"No one brought this virus to Nunavut on purpose, no one deserves to be shamed or blamed at this time. The whole world is experiencing this uncertainty and fear," Joe Savikataaq said.

"Now is the time for patience, kindness, staying at home. We will get through this together. We will beat COVID19 together." 

Local Inuit organization providing support 

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association is providing support to the person who tested positive with COVID-19, their family, as well as the community, it said in a news release. 

The organization is working with its government partners and the local Arctic Co-op store "to ensure the family receives delivery of necessary cleaning supplies, groceries, and other social supports needed to self-isolate."

It also called on the federal government to assist the government of Nunavut to provide communities in the territory basic services — in Pond Inlet's case, essential infrastructure needed to connect the community to its water supply.

The pipes that run from a reservoir lake to the community's pumping station broke in the fall. Hamlet employees have been driving water delivery trucks onto the ice, then using an auger, drill a hole to access the water. 

With the spring melt on the way, this won't be possible for much longer and access to clean water will become more difficult. 

"We will try and do what we can in the meantime to deliver water. Especially water, and hope to receive the parts [to fix the pipes] pretty soon as the [Department of Community and Government Services] has confirmed that they are on their way," Arreak said.