Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Erwin Elias is calling for the government of the Northwest Territories to stop allowing people who have left the territory back until they have completed a period of self-isolation in wake of revelations a case of COVID-19 in Inuvik earlier this week.
“I don’t think it’s a shock here. Everybody knows this was bound to happen the way the system is set up with the GNWT,” he said on April 3. “We’re sitting ducks here. We have no authority to govern our community.
“One of the big problems we’re having is they’re allowing people with a high potential of being infected in from the south and they’re isolating in the north. Why would we ever allow anyone to come in from the south whether they be residents or not? Why can’t they isolate before they board the plane? I don’t understand why they want to bring infected people into the north and put them in a hotel in Inuvik — why can’t they put them in a hotel in Edmonton?”
Noting that Nunavut cut out all travel and has not had a single case to date, Elias said the GNWT was limiting the ability of local governments to respond to the crisis by allowing potential carriers of the virus back into the territory.
He said by the time someone is self-isolating in their home, it’s too late.
“If you’re going to Nunavut, you have to isolate in Winnipeg or Ottawa before entering. I’m saying we have to do that in the Northwest Territories too,” said Elias. “You should not be allowed on the plane unless you have documentation saying you were isolated for two weeks.
“On March 20, there were 0 cases in the Northwest Territories. The only way we’ve received cases is we’ve allowed them to fly in without isolation from Edmonton and Whitehorse.”
Elias said he sympathized with the long hours GNWT employees were working and understood everyone was trying their best, but said the current strategy was showing to not be effective at keeping the virus out and should be reassessed and quickly.
But he says he’s becoming frustrated with being told to just self-isolate while the problem seemingly gets worse.
“When I brought it up they started talking about the work fields in Norman Wells, but I’m talking about everyone,” he said. “Everybody by now should have known that they shouldn’t have left the north to begin with a month ago, at least. Everybody was warned that this was going to take place, and if you’re stuck in the south, then that’s your decision at the time.
“It’s frustrating. The GNWT is telling us ‘Go sit in your house and isolate because we’re going to bring people in who might be infected, and we’re going to continue to bring them in, so we want you to stay in your house and social distance.’
“Does that make sense?”
A press release Friday evening from Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson said he supported Elias’ requests.
“We cannot afford to allow the spread of this virus into the communities. If this happens, lives will be lost. I support the Mayors 100 per cent in their request for stricter measures,” said Jacobson. “The GNWT must halt all travel into and between the smaller communities, except for those transporting necessities. Any residents returning to their home communities at this point in time should be required to produce written medical clearance. No one else should be allowed in. Period.”
A second change Elias is calling for is a restriction on liquor sales — not to prevent people from being able to buy it, but to limit the volume being purchased by bootleggers to re-sell.
He said there was a serious concern in the community about the virus being spread by unauthorized liquor sales and suggested a limit on volume being purchased would stop them in their tracks.
“There has to be a restriction at the liquor store,” he said. “It shouldn’t be shut down, because there are people who need it and that would cause other problems, but you can restrict it and the only people you’re going to hurt is the bootleggers, which is not a big deal right now.
“The people that are in need of it shouldn’t be cut off, but if you restrict it to a 40 and a flat or something like that, you’ll hurt the bootlegger, which is okay. Right now people are loading up the back of their truck and they’re driving out to communities and taking advantage of this crisis.”
A special council meeting has been scheduled for Monday, April 6. On the agenda for the meeting are water and sewer contribution agreements, operations and maintenance contribution agreements, approval of minutes and financial statements, a temporary prohibition order and passing the 2020-2021 hamlet budget. It is closed to the public.
On April 7, a checkstop was established on the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway to prevent unauthoritzed visitors from entering the hamlet.