By Rachel Kiddell-Monroe, SeeChange Initiative; and Malcolm Ranta, Ilisaqsivik Society, Clyde River. The original publication can be found here.
While Dr Theresa Tam sees early signs of a slowing COVID-19 pandemic across Canada, she also warned “the marathon is just beginning”. This message hits home in Nunavut’s 25 Inuit communities — places where a marathon could quickly become a sprint.
To date, no case of COVID-19 disease has been reported in Nunavut. But thirteen cases have been reported in Nunavik, Quebec, eight in the Yukon and five in the Northwest Territories. It is only a matter of time before the virus causing COVID-19 disease reaches Nunavut.
Inuit represent some of Canada’s most vulnerable communities, and community leaders in Nunavut are keenly aware of this. They know best how to serve their communities. They know that no two communities are the same and that no community is homogenous. While government-led public health measures are important, only community leaders can tailor them to community realities.
Yet, while community leaders in Nunavut are raising their voices to advocate for their communities in the COVID-19 response, it appears their requests are falling on deaf ears.
Take one example. On March 25, 2020, the Clyde River hamlet council sent a letter to Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer requesting an all-out ban on travel into the community, including people from other Nunavut communities, a scale-up of testing community-wide, cleaning supplies and funding to create isolation spaces. All their requests were turned down.
Understanding the urgency to prevent and contain COVID-19, communities in Nunavut are not waiting for the government and have taken matters into their own hands. Arctic Bay has enforced curfews and Kugaaruk’s hamlet council banned flights into the community. Clyde River hamlet council appointed an emergency COVID-19 coordinator and developed its own emergency readiness plans to protect their community. They have sought advice from emergency specialists like the Canadian Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres and adapted guidelines from the World Health Organization as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic requires strong coordination of public health approaches from all layers of government in Canada. The Government of Nunavut has taken strong steps in an effort to keep the territory COVID-19-free, including mandatory 14-day isolation for returning residents of Nunavut in locations outside of the territory. But these steps alone are not enough. There needs to be strong coordination with the communities at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. And that is not happening.