Nova Scotia

Eskasoni imposes curfew, erects barricades to prevent spread of COVID-19

A state of emergency imposed on residents of the Eskasoni First Nation by the band council is even stricter than the one imposed by the Nova Scotia government on Sunday.

Restrictions include people being ordered to stay in their houses from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Eskasoni First Nation security guards operate a checkpoint on Route 216 at the entrance to the reserve on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, during a locally declared state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

A state of emergency imposed on residents of the Eskasoni First Nation by the band council is even stricter than the one imposed by the Nova Scotia government on Sunday.

One of the conditions is that residents must remain in their homes from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Eskasoni has also set up barricades at the three entrances into the community, and residents are only permitted to leave for urgent appointments, such as medical or banking.

Non-residents are screened by private security guards at the barricades and allowed to enter for work or to make essential deliveries.

Chief Leroy Denny said the restrictions are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as many people in the community of 4,500 have chronic health conditions and are considered at high risk of developing serious complications from the virus.

He said at last count, 28 households were in self-isolation, following travel outside Canada or elsewhere in the country.

'Close-knit community'

"This is a very close-knit community, big families, very active," said Denny. "If there's a community spread, it would be very difficult for us."

As of Wednesday, there are 68 cases of COVID-19 in the province.

It's unclear who's policing the curfew in Eskasoni, or what the penalties are for failing to obey it.

Denny said the RCMP are helping with enforcement, but the police force will not confirm that.

Spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said in an email the force is "working with the community to address their concerns," but would not provide specifics on what they are doing.

Eskasoni First Nation Chief Leroy Denny said the band must take strict precautions to protect its citizens against COVID-19. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Resident Clifton Cremo said there's generally been a good response to the state of emergency.

"People seem glad that the chief and council are taking it seriously," he said.

Cremo said he didn't know if people are obeying the nightly curfew.

"I've been inside," he said.

Community is 'buying into this'

Denny said people are complying with the restrictions.

"Community members are buying into this, they're respecting it," he said. "We urge people not to leave their homes. Whatever they need in town, we have here. Pretty much everything in Sydney is closed anyway."

Denny said exceptions would be made for people living in neighbouring communities who want to pick up supplies or for those who want to drive through Eskasoni. A provincial highway, Route 216, runs through the First Nation.

He said short-term passes would be issued at the barricades and a "follow-me" truck would escort people through the community.

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