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Petition calls for coronavirus support in remote Indigenous communities in Canada

WATCH ABOVE: Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said on Friday that there were 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in communities on reserve and five in Nunavik. The numbers came as Miller also announced the transfer of $305 million to First Nations communities to help to prevent and react to the virus. (April 10)

The novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly across Canada and one Toronto doctor is calling on the federal government to intervene before COVID-19 impacts some of Canada’s most vulnerable citizens.

“If this is a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic,” says Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto. “We need to do what it takes to save people’s lives. It’s like a war zone.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 case confirmed at Blueberry River First Nations in northeastern B.C.

A change.com petition has been started by Ontario’s former regional chief Isadore Day that says First Nations, Inuit and Metis are among the most vulnerable Canadians who are the least equipped to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many Indigenous communities experience poverty, overcrowding, food and water insecurity, and lack adequate access to healthcare and there is a higher rate of chronic disease,” the petition reads. “All of this increases risk of severe COVID-19.”

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“We are simply going in blind, trusting that the federal government has our best interests at hand and at heart,” Day, a member of Serpent River First Nation and the former chair of the Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs Committee on Health, told Global News.

Nurse brought COVID-19 to facility in Saskatchewan’s far north, says FSIN
Nurse brought COVID-19 to facility in Saskatchewan’s far north, says FSIN

There’s concern that if COVID-19 spreads to remote and fly-in only parts of the country, it could have a devastating impact on those communities, similar to what Canada is experiencing in long-term care homes.

“We’re in a crisis right now,” Banerji said. “It’s an impending crisis that could happen in these Indigenous communities and we don’t want what’s happening in these long-term care facilities to happen there so we need to act now to prevent that from happening.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Trudeau announces $130 million to help Canada’s northern communities

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday the federal government is spending $130 million to help the country’s northern communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Last month the Trudeau government pledged $300 million in pandemic relief funding that can be used to address a range of concerns such as food insecurity, education, mental health assistance and preparedness measures.

But Indigenous leaders are suggesting more needs to be done on the front lines now, such as enhancing health-care capacity and mobilizing the Canadian Red Cross, members of the Canadian Rangers who are stationed in remote communities, and troops and reservists that can be deployed to Indigenous communities who need their assistance.

They’d also like to see medical supplies such as ventilators sent, field hospitals set up and temporary housing put in place for isolating community members who would be at high risk.

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau promises $130M in COVID-19 aid for vulnerable northern communities
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau promises $130M in COVID-19 aid for vulnerable northern communities

“We don’t have that level of involvement or recognition in the process,” Day said. “The fact we have low transmission in Canada right now doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be building the most robust systems that we need to.

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“Identifying in each of the regions, you know, where do we need field hospitals in the event of that next-level outbreak, can we get rapid testing in the communities, in all the communities right now. There’s so much lacking in those areas.”

In Manitoba, leaders would like to see Cuban doctors fast-tracked to assist the communities where there is a doctor shortage, adding that preparations need to be made now given the 14-day quarantine period for those entering the country.

READ MORE: 35 COVID-19 cases on First Nations — Indigenous Services Canada

Quebec, Ontario and northern Manitoba have requested military aid from the Trudeau government as they grapple with the virus. On Wednesday, Trudeau said the federal government is considering all requests coming in.

“As any more requests come in, we will look to support Quebec or other provinces who are asking for help from the federal government,” Trudeau said. “Regardless of what that help looks like and what they’re asking us, we will be there to help.”

Day says First Nations leaders need to be included in planning between public health agencies, the federal and provincial governments.

“I fear if we wait too long that gap that exists between health conditions of our people and the mainstream we’re only going to see it become much more inflamed and damaged as COVID takes over.”

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