People in the Beaufort Delta are racing against the clock with an unknown amount of borrowed time in efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus (Coronavirus) and to prepare for potential infections.
As of March 17, there are no confirmed cases of the virus in the Northwest Territories out of 138 tests. Across Canada, there have been 424 cases, with 177 in Ontario, 103 in British Columbia, 74 in Alberta and 50 in Quebec. Four Canadians have died from the virus so far. The risk of catching the disease in the north is listed as low, however that did not stop Chief Public Health officer Kami Kandola from recommending anyone who has traveled internationally self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms and avoiding any non-essential travel in and out of the Northwest Territories.
“It’s good enough for me that you came from another part of Canada — you need to be self-monitoring and we will test you,” she said. “We’re paying a lot of attention to the next 60 days as the situation evolves. This is a global pandemic. It’s got 156 countries involved. We can take a good approach to bring it down, but unless the whole world brings it down there is always the chance it could resurface.”
From Tsiigehtchic to Tuktoyaktuk, people are taking no chances. Territorial court sittings outside of Yellowknife are cancelled until June 1 and Supreme Court sittings until at least May 1. Public outreach programs and activities ranging from Hockey to Bingo have been suspended until further notice.
As of March 18, the Town of Inuvik is closing the Midnight Sun Complex, Centennial Library and the Town Office and Hall, along with all public events and programs until further notice.
Beaufort Delta Education Council superintendent Frank Galway said the board was recommending schools remained closed until April 14 and a meeting was scheduled to ensure all individual schools are on board.
“I can’t confirm that every school will comply, because they have the right to make a decision, but at the present moment I think most of our schools have people traveling internationally, so right now we’re working on a plan with the fact all schools are closed until April 14,” he said. “What that means for learning plans and things for students, that will be forthcoming in the next few days.”
In addition to restricting staff travel and announcing heightened store sanitation practices, Canadian Retail owner and CEO Alex Yeo announced the chain would hold prices at current levels and was increasing the volume of product ordered to keep up with demand.
“Over the past several weeks Northern and NorthMart have increased orders of essential food and other grocery products to ensure we have adequate supply for our customers. As of today, we are meeting our customer demands with the exception of a few items,” he stated in a news release. “Going forward, our priority is to continue to meet their shopping needs, working closely with our suppliers, transportation partners and government officials. To assure customers further, prices will be frozen for 60 days unless they relate to increases beyond our control.”
NorthMart has stores in Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Inuvik, Paulatuk, Tsiigehtchic, Tuktoyaktuk, and Ulukhaktok. Stanton’s Group Ltd. has also initiated a policy of heightened sterilization.
Aklavik senior administrative officer Fred Behrens said he wasn’t worried about supply chains breaking and said the best thing to do was to follow the safety instructions from the government.
Noting the communities in the area are so small a virus could wreak havoc, Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Erwin Elias said the hamlet was attending an interagency meeting March 17 to make sure all parties were on the same page.
“This disease is almost unpredictable,” he said. “We have a highway and we have people doing sports hunting around here and people from the United States that are the hunters. The big questions are when do we call a state of emergency? If there’s ever an outbreak how do we go about it?
“The communities that we live in are so small, if there were ever an outbreak it might be hard for us to contain because of the facilities we have.”
Musktrat Jamboree cancelled
Going back to her point about the next 60 days, Kandola noted organizers of festivals should contact the public health authority for advice on whether to stay open or not, noting the territory had to respond to the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic March 11.
“When we sent out our advisory last Wednesday we were hearing about events happening this weekend and some unfortunately we had to cancel on very short notice,” she said. “But now that we have a good list of events coming up we can give people more time. However, we may not capture everyone, so we’re asking people who are having a mass gathering to email us.
“As the weather gets warmer people can have massed gatherings outside, social distancing may not be as big of an issue.”
On March 17, the Muskrat Jamboree announced it was cancelling for 2021. Shortly after the announcement, the Office of the Chief Public Health officer issued a news release asking all public gatherings of over 50 people to cancel until further notice.
Both Elias and Behrens said Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik still hoped to go forward with their upcoming festivals, the Beluga Jamboree and the Mad Trapper Rendezvous.
Elias said since this year is both the 50th anniversaries of the jamboree and for the hamlet itself, it would do whatever was possible to keep the festivities going, but noted public safety would take precedence if it came down to it.
“We’re all playing it by ear,” he said. “We’re a month away and this is supposed to be a big jamboree for the region, it’s our 50th anniversary. But Tuk does have a later season, so we can postpone.
“But if we have to cancel, we have to cancel; it’s not a big deal. The most important thing is the safety of the public.”