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First wave of Nunavummiut to return home starting Friday

There are two flights scheduled to arrive in Nunavut next week that will be transporting both critical workers and self-isolated residents on the same aircraft.
photo courtesy of Canadian North

The two-week mandatory self-isolation period for some Nunavummiut is now complete. These residents will be returning home starting Friday.

As of April 8, there were 438 individuals in self-isolation down south. This number reflects 252 medical travellers, 128 public members and 58 students.

By April 13, 286 self-isolated individuals are expected to be arriving in the territory.

Since March 25, Nunavut’s chief public health officer gave orders that Nunavummiut in the south would only be permitted into the territory after clearing a 14 day self-isolation period down south. These tighter travel restrictions came into effect to minimize the risk of exposure and spread of Covid-19.

The only exception was made for critical workers who can enter Nunavut with permission from Nunavut’s top doctor, Dr. Michael Patterson. In other words, critical workers do not need to self-isolate before entering the territory, they only need permission.

There are two flights, scheduled to arrive in Nunavut next week, which will be transporting both critical workers and self-isolated residents on the same aircraft.

When asked how Patterson could justify having these two groups travelling together, he responded, “the workers who have been exempted (from self-isolation) will be sitting in one area with a couple of rows between them and the people who have been through isolation.”

The two rows of separation between the two groups is more than enough for contact tracing purposes, said Patterson, adding this meets Health Canada’s standards for contact tracing.

Patterson assured “great lengths” have been taken to minimize the risk of a critical worker transmitting the virus on those flights.

To prevent Covid-19 transmission from occurring en route, the travel history of each critical worker has been scrutinized, emphasized Patterson.

“We review their travel history and where they've been for three weeks before they intend to come to Nunavut. So we've got that extra blanket of security that they’re not going to be transmitting Covid-19,” he said.

Health Minister George Hickes added that the two groups will not come into any contact with each other during the whole travel process. They will have separate check-in lines and waiting areas at the gate. The plan is to board the residents first at the front of the plane, followed by the boarding of critical workers.

To completely restrict critical workers from coming into Nunavut, or forcing them to self-isolate for 14 days, would cause “greater harm” for Nunavut, said Patterson, adding it would limit the skills that are needed within the territory.

As of April 8, 351 travel requests have been received from critical workers. The number of critical workers who will be on-board the two flights next week was not provided.

Forty-eight hours before departure, travellers will be informed about the travel and clearance process, Patterson explained during today’s press conference. The day before departure, on-site health staff will review each traveller’s daily check-in logs to ensure all self-isolation rules have been followed. A final in-person assessment of each traveller will be completed to check for any symptoms of Covid-19.

“The assessments and results are sent to my office, and a decision to clear a traveller for the scheduled return home is made and a letter approving travel is issued,” said the doctor.

On the day of departure, Nunavummiut will be transported from their hotel to the airport by a private shuttle, which has been thoroughly sanitized, he said.

To minimize the risk of exposure to Covid-19, airports and airlines have enhanced cleaning. Physical distancing will be maintained during the security process. Additionally, travellers will undergo another health check prior to boarding the plane, assured the chief public health officer.

Residents will travel to Nunavut either on chartered and scheduled flights.

Those who are travelling on chartered flights will be shuttled directly to their airplane for boarding.

Nunavummiut travelling on scheduled flights will be dropped off at the airport, met and guided by airline employees to check-in, escorted through security to the boarding area and finally boarded onto plane.

On April 10, a charter flight from Ottawa carrying 14 medical travellers and 35 students is scheduled to arrive in Nunavut.

On April 11, a charter flight from Winnipeg is expected to arrive with four medical travellers, 27 students and one public member. On the same day, there are also two scheduled flights from Yellowknife and Edmonton. The Yellowknife flight will have 41 medical travellers and four public members. The Edmonton flight will be boarded with four medical travellers and one public member.

On April 12, a charter flight from Ottawa will transport 22 medical travellers and 40 public members. Another charter flight from Winnipeg will bring 33 medical travellers and 12 public members into the territory.

After the two scheduled flights with the critical workers and self-isolated individuals next week, the government will be taking a different approach.

“And just to clarify, after those couple of flights, we'll be moving to a schedule where critical workers will be only allowed on certain flights, and there will be nobody from the isolation hubs on those flights,” said Patterson.