In late September, two workers at the Hope Bay mine in Nunavut tested positive for Covid-19. Both workers were exposed to the coronavirus in their southern home provinces prior to arriving at the mine, and the fact that they were Covid-19 positive was not detected until they arrived on site.
The Government of Nunavut deployed a rapid response team to the mine to trace those who may have worked with the individuals who tested positive. Anybody who may have had contact with the two was immediately put into isolation on-site. This included at least one unfortunate NWT resident, who was near the end of a long three-week shift and looking forward to coming home.
Covid-19 quarantine at a mine site comes pretty close to doing hard time. In this case, our resident was in solitary confinement for fourteen days in a 10-foot by 10-foot room, with meals delivered three times a day. The only human contact was a nurse who visited to assess his condition, which remained asymptomatic for the duration of the quarantine. The nurse also took swabs for Covid-19 testing using the same GeneXpert machines used by the GNWT. Our resident was tested twice during their isolation. These tests came back negative and were confirmed in southern labs.
Finally, after five weeks at the mine site including two weeks in rigid quarantine, our resident was able to come home to the NWT. The quarantine and testing completed at the mine were over and above what is required by the GNWT to freely enter our communities (the GNWT only requires 14-day quarantine without testing). Coupled with the fact that there is unrestricted travel between the NWT and Nunavut, this should have ensured that our resident was Covid-19 free and safe to come home and enjoy some time off with family.
Sadly, upon landing at the Yellowknife airport our resident was informed by the Chief Public Health Office that they had to submit to another fourteen-day quarantine in Yellowknife. Meanwhile, other mine workers who were similarly quarantined on-site but who reside in southern provinces had no such burden. The irony is that once our resident is finished this second quarantine period, it will be just in time to head back up to Hope Bay for the next work shift.
This is cruel and unusual punishment, administered with a heavy, unfeeling hand.
I think we all understand that it is acceptable for our freedoms to be limited when there is a serious and likely threat to public health. The GNWT has used our acceptance of this principle to impose restrictions on all our lives over the past months. However, when using these emergency powers, the GNWT should only be imposing the least restrictive measures that are necessary and effective. In this case, our resident does not pose a serious and likely threat to our public health. Requiring a second consecutive quarantine is unnecessary and downright inhumane.
We have now been six months Covid-19 free and are long past the point of pandemic crisis management. I would hope that our ever-increasing bureaucracy devoted to Covid-19 response would be in a position to consider the unique stories of some of our residents and provide solutions to fit the case.
The story I’ve told is one of government overkill, surely causing more harm to the resident than good to the people of the NWT. How many others have similar stories to tell?