The Canadian territory of Nunavut will enter lockdown as a surge in coronavirus cases threatens vulnerable communities in the Arctic.
The territory, which had its first documented case in early November, has since experienced a spike in Covid-19 infections. Officials on Monday announced 26 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the territory, an increase over the three announced last Friday.
“Nobody is above the rules here. Do not visit. Do not socialise outside your household,” premier Joe Savikataaq told reporters as his government announced the lockdown measures, which are expected to last two weeks.
Nunavut’s first confirmed case of Covid-19 was identified on 6 November, but that number has since ballooned as public health officials uncover evidence of community transmission.
Over the weekend, a number of cases were discovered in the hamlet of Arviat, with a population of 2,657. Officials have also identified coronavirus infections in Rankin Inlet, which they believe are linked to the Arviat cluster.
Beginning Wednesday, schools and daycares throughout the entire territory will shut down for two weeks. Restaurants will only be permitted to offer takeout and bars will close.
There are no confirmed cases of the virus in the capital, Iqaluit, which serves as the main hub for transit down the larger cities in the south, like Winnipeg and Ottawa. Officials have also discouraged any travelling for the next two weeks.
“Limiting any potential exposure to the virus is our best possible defense in Nunavut,” Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said in a statement.
For much of the pandemic, Nunavut has been an exception to the world: no confirmed cases have appeared within its borders.
Strict public health measures, including spending millions to ensure residents adhered to a mandatory quarantine period prior to entering the territory, have successfully kept the coronavirus at bay, even as cases spread rapidly throughout other parts of the country.
The territory’s sprawl – stretching 808,190 square miles – has helped limit the spread. Many of the communities are connected only by air, reducing the amount of frequent travel.
But the small, tightly-knit communities have also long been a source of worry. For months, public health experts long feared a coronavirus outbreak in the region could have disastrous consequences for vulnerable residents.
In addition to disproportionately high rates of tuberculosis, Nunavut has long struggled with a dearth of public health infrastructure and adequate housing.
“You’ve got populations that are malnourished, living in overcrowded conditions with higher levels of co-morbidities – chronic obstructive lung disease, cardiovascular disease and obesity – that are now going to get a virus,” said Anna Banerji, director of global and indigenous health at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, told the Guardian last spring.
“Especially with the overcrowding, I’m sure this virus will spread quickly.”