Snowmobiles buzzing back and forth over the 76 km between Iglulik and Sanirajak is common for much of the year as family and friends renew acquaintances, the Easter long weekend included.
Covid-19 has thrown a wrench into that socialization for some. Others continue to make the trip but some are unsure of how safe it is in the midst of a global pandemic, even though no cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed in Nunavut.
The territory’s chief public health officer advises against all non-essential travel between communities, although there is no requirement for those who visit elsewhere within Nunavut to self-isolate upon arrival or when returning.
“All Nunavummiut are encouraged to stay home,” reads a statement on behalf of Dr. Michael Patterson, adding that the freedom to travel between communities will be reviewed should a case of Covid-19 be confirmed in Nunavut.
On April 2, the Nunavut Association of Municipalities (NAM) added its voice to that call for a halt to non-essential inter-community travel in order to limit potential for the virus to spread, should it arise.
“Several communities have already responded favourably,” executive director Tony Bird said of the response to NAM’s position on the matter.
In Sanirajak, Mayor Jaypeetee Audlakiak said he’s aware of residents continuing to travel to and from his hamlet but he said traffic is lower than normal.
“We’re trying to control that but because we’re in the gateway to hunting grounds, sometimes on their way to or coming back from caribou hunting they stop in for a while,” Audlakiak said. “But we’re doing what we can to keep an eye on those sorts of stuff too.”
Likely due to Covid-19, Audlakiak said he’s only seen the occasional hunter from Iglulik and none from Pond Inlet or Arctic Bay this spring, but he questioned whether the visitors will increase as the milder temperatures take hold.
Merlyn Recinos, mayor of Iglulik, said he and his hamlet council have advised residents to avoid travel to Sanirajak and that advisory will become mandatory if Covid-19 appears.
“A lot of times people going caribou hunting they stop in Hall Beach and then continue on. We’re asking them not to do that,” Recinos said.
However, the mayor said hunting and going out on the land is still being promoted because it’s a means of obtaining healthy food. He noted that the Qikiqtani Inuit Association has made funding available for trips to camps and cabins.
“Hunting is essential for people in Iglulik, especially during this time,” said Recinos.