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Nunavut braces for Omicron; double vaccinated asked to isolate upon returning to territory

People with booster shots can skip self-isolation
Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, says people with two vaccines and no booster must isolate on returning to the territory. Dec. 21, 2021, Iqaluit, NU. Trevor Wright/NNSL photo

Due to the increased risks the Omicron variant of Covid-19 poses to Nunavut, people who have their proof of vaccination but have not gotten the third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine are being asked to isolate once returning to the territory. Those who have received their booster shot can skip isolation.

The Government of Nunavut made this announcement at a Covid-19 update Dec. 21 at the Legislative Assembly.

“For the first 14 days after returning, (people should) stay home or stay out of other peoples houses or other buildings and not have people over at their own house,” explained Dr. Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, however, residents may go out once a week to go get groceries and other essentials.

One issue with the Omicron variant is that it is indistinguishable from the common cold, said Patterson. As a result people are recommended to call the Covid-19 hotline (1-888-975-8601) when symptoms similar to a cold present themselves.

Those who received their booster shot are 75 to 80 per cent less likely to face hospitalization or severe symptoms due to Omicron, he adds.

A booster shot works as a top-up for the body’s immune system, to better train it to recognize and fight Covid-19.

As an extra precaution against the emergence of the Omicron variant there are additional territory-wide public health measures.

“In light of quickly changing information about the Omicron variant, we have had to make difficult decisions. We have rescinded the recent order to allow communities some larger gatherings over the holidays,” said Patterson.

Communities planning to hold events during the holidays must adhere to the current public gathering limits which is 50 per cent capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

“There’s a strong possibility we will have to cease travel in and out of a community should we identify a positive case of Covid-19 … this is necessary to ensure quick containment of Omicron infections,” he adds.

Travelling to other communities is also not recommended to prevent the risk of Omicron spreading.

The Omicron variant presents “simply too many unknowns and too many risks which may jeopardize Nunavummiut,” said Patterson.

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok said while many wanted a more normal Christmas this year this is not the time to have one.

“It is not time to let our guard down, we are seeing mounting cases of Omicron across the country and the statistics are alarming,” said Akeeagok. “The best gift we can give is our family’s good health.”

Healthcare system stretched during holidays

Health minister John Main also noted the territory is facing staffing shortages due to people travelling down south for Christmas.

“Our healthcare system is stretched, it’s extra thin across Nunavut in the short-term. Our staffing resources are limited. Although we have been working hard to recruit and retain the health professionals needed across the territory, service reductions will be felt in many communities over the holidays,” said Main.

Among these temporary service reductions include reduced access to vaccinations. These include vaccines for Covid-19 and the flu. He noted Nunavut isn’t the only jurisdiction facing healthcare staff shortages.

“Our challenges are related to a national trend in health staffing, where the pandemic has negatively impacted the workforce in many ways,” said Main.

In some communities, health centres are expected to be emergency only for the holidays.

The Government of Nunavut is also looking to get a supply of antigen tests which individuals can use once returning to Nunavut. This however will not be a substitute for self-isolation, says Dr. Patterson.

“Evidence says Omicron can spread very quickly, even among those who had two doses of vaccine,” he said.

Patterson added we should be expect to see more cases of Covid-19 in Nunavut once people start arriving back from the holidays.