OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s remote Arctic territory of Nunavut is suffering its first community outbreak of COVID-19 and will close all non-essential services, as well as schools, for at least two weeks, officials said on Monday.
“This is an outbreak,” Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, told a news conference streamed online from the territory’s capital, Iqaluit. “There has been community transmission occurring in Arviat in the last little while.”
COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada’s northern territories are particularly concerning because healthcare services are limited and because there are often numerous people living under the same roof, which facilitates the spread of the virus.
There had been no novel coronavirus transmission within the territory of about 36,000 people until earlier this month. There are now 26 confirmed cases, Patterson said.
Two of the three most-populated towns in Nunavut have confirmed cases. Most of them are in Arviat, the territory’s third-biggest community of about 2,500 on the western shore of Hudson Bay. Rankin Inlet, the second biggest, also has active cases.
Starting on Wednesday, all non-essential services will be closed for two weeks and wearing a mask is strongly recommended. The Iqaluit hospital and health centers around the territory will be closed except for emergencies, and gatherings will be limited to a maximum of five people not from the same household.
Separately, Canada’s federal health minister, Patty Hajdu, on Monday welcomed the news that Moderna Inc’s experimental coronavirus vaccine had been 94.5% effective.
Canada has an agreement to acquire 56 million doses of the Moderna vaccine when it becomes available, but Hajdu cautioned it would be some time before any vaccine is widely available.
“It’s critically important over the next few months that we realize that despite the fact there’s light at the end of the tunnel, we have dark months ahead of us,” she told reporters.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)