Ottawa

Nunavut government paying millions for residents to quarantine at Ottawa hotel

More than 1,200 Nunavut residents have been forced to quarantine at an Ottawa hotel before returning home, costing the Nunavut government nearly $5 million.

Territory has spent $21 million — so far — on quarantine centres in 4 cities

The airport in Iqaluit. The Nunavut government requires all residents to quarantine for 14 days before returning home. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

In an effort to keep its COVID-19 case count at zero, the Nunavut government has paid nearly $5 million for more than 1,200 of its residents to quarantine at an Ottawa hotel before returning home.

The territory is the only place in Canada that hasn't had a single confirmed case of the virus and has imposed strict entry regulations to ensure it stays that way. In order to return home, residents require a letter from Nunavut's chief medical officer of health confirming they have completed a 14-day self-isolation.

The letter is written based on a report from a hotel nurse.

The territorial government has been paying the expenses of a resident's stay in one of four cities — Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg or Yellowknife. The Yellowknife centre has since closed.

So far, the government has spent  $21 million for residents to isolate, the territory's department of health wrote in a statement to CBC News.

We have pretty good resources but because of our remoteness ... I think that it could get really out of hand in a hurry."- Heidi Nowicki, a Nunavut resident who's currently in quarantine in Ottawa

Of the approximately 3,200 people who have been required to self-isolate, more than a third — 1,263  — did so in Ottawa, and that number continues to climb as more people prepare to return home, the health department said. 

Heidi Nowicki is currently isolating with her husband at the Residence Inn by Marriott near Ottawa's Macdonald–Cartier International Airport.

Nowicki is a healthcare worker in Iqaluit. She's had to use her own vacation days to cover the two-week quarantine period. She said she and her husband are trying to treat it as a "vacation after my vacation." 

"It's been actually nice and relaxing and the hotel is very accommodating."

Heidi Nowicki and her husband are staying at the Residence Inn by Marriott near Ottawa's Macdonald–Cartier International Airport. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Daily check-ups

Every morning, Nowicki and her husband get a call from a nurse asking how they are feeling and if they have any COVID-19-related symptoms. Nowicki said security guards are stationed throughout the hotel, reminding guests to wear a mask outside their rooms. Unlike some others who have to self-isolate, she and her husband have been allowed to leave their room and walk around outside, she said.

"I've been doing a lot of walking around, like, laps around the parking lot. So I figured I got lots of time to get in shape," she said. 

The couple are hoping to board a plane back to Iqaluit on Aug. 13 after getting their required letters.

Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit, is seen from Frobisher Bay. The territory has had zero confirmed COVID-19 cases so far. (Adrian Wyld/TCPI/The Canadian Press)

Zero cases

Even though Nunavut has had zero confirmed cases of COVID-19, it has had some presumptive case scares. Last month two workers from the Mary River Mine tested negative for the virus. At the time, the territory's chief public health officer said the mine workers could have had the illness before, but recovered.

Nowicki believes the government has done a good job keeping the virus out of the territory and said it could be a burden on the health care system if there were an outbreak.

"We have pretty good resources, but because of our remoteness ...  and then some of the respiratory disorders that we already have there, I think that it could get really out of hand in a hurry and really harm the Nunavut population as a whole."

About the Author

Sarah Kester

Reporter

Sarah Kester is a reporter at CBC in Ottawa. She can be reached at sarah.kester@cbc.ca.

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