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Nunavik under lockdown, flights cancelled to protect communities from coronavirus

A health-care worker looks on at a drive-thru COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 29, 2020.
A health-care worker looks on at a drive-thru COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

The 14 communities of Nunavik in northern Quebec are under lockdown until further notice to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The measure, which is in effect as of Friday, comes after two confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the region.

Dr. Marie Rochette, director of public health at the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, said in a statement that everyone has to work together to protect elders and vulnerable citizens.

“This decision was not taken lightly,” she said. “We strongly believe it is the best way to reduce the risk of community transmission.”

Flights in and out of Nunavik, as well as between communities, are cancelled as part of the lockdown.

READ MORE: Quebecers flouting coronavirus rules can expect hefty fines, premier warns

Cargo transportation and patients travelling for medical reasons are permitted. Patients must travel alone unless they are under the age of 14.

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Health-care workers, police officers and other front-line workers are also allowed to board flights.

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Under the plan, anyone returning to Nunavik is asked to self-isolate for 14 days. The public is also asked to obey social-distancing measures, including keeping two metres apart from others.

Each municipality is also asked to create an emergency response team to deal with a potential spread of COVID-19.

Amid the lockdown, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday the Canadian Armed Forces are also being deployed to northern Quebec. They will help communities there prepare to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks.

READ MORE: Canadian military deploying to northern Quebec amid coronavirus pandemic

The Quebec government has also moved to protect some of its more remote regions, including Nunavik.

Under the order, there are police checkpoints to block non-essential travel to and from 12 regions in the province.

Deputy premier Geneviève Guilbault said last week that people attempting to enter or leave the regions “are not an essential service. If they are not going for health reasons or for humanitarian reasons, they will be sent home.”

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services said it is preparing in the event there are more cases in the region.

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As part of the plan, two health centres in Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq now have more beds to accommodate potential patients. There is also enough medical equipment for a rise in cases, according to the board.

Jean-Pierre Larose, public security director for Nunavik, said the lockdown is expected to give local teams time to prepare for more cases and keep the situation under control.

In Quebec, there are more than 5,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The health crisis has claimed the lives of 36 people, most of whom were older than 70.

Quebec government cracks down on public gatherings
Quebec government cracks down on public gatherings

With files from the Canadian Press