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First Nations communities see increase in COVID-19 cases, minister says

Coronavirus outbreak: First Nations communities see increase in COVID-19 cases
ABOVE: First Nations communities see increase in COVID-19 cases

First Nations communities across the country have seen an uptick in novel coronavirus cases in the last week, Canada’s Indigenous Services Minister said on Saturday.

According to Marc Miller, as of April 24, there have been 95 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in First Nations communities on reserve and 14 infections in Nunavik Inuit communities.

There are a number of immediate actions that can be taken that have proven to be the most effective means of slowing the spread of the virus — ones many of us have become quite familiar with, but which are worth repeating,” Miller said. “Namely hand-washing, physical distancing, no large or even small gatherings, self-isolation and active identification of symptoms.”

READ MORE: ‘It has been hectic’: First Nation in Alberta fighting COVID-19 case, annual floods

Miller said the government is counting on Indigenous leadership to “persist in their efforts to share this message with their communities.”

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He said to date, on top of support from provinces, the federal government has distributed 160,000 gowns, 500,000 gloves and close to 200,000 surgical masks to affected communities.

And, Miller said there has been “positive progress” when it comes to support for urban Indigenous populations.

“This week, 94 programs were supported through the Indigenous Community Support Fund,” he said. “These programs support a variety of Indigenous measures that help youth, homeless individuals and elders by providing food, food baskets, child care, mental health supports in urban settings principally.”

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The government previously announced $305 million for the Indigenous Community Support Fund.

Miller said the federal government is now “working quickly to get the funds out the door” for the 94 accepted programs, and are streamlining the process to allow the funds to flow directly to Indigenous communities.

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What’s more, Miller said this funding is “over and above” the base amount each Indigenous-based program receives to support post-secondary education and will help to cover the costs such as living, travel or counselling to “ensure the success of Indigenous students.”

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Miller said Inuit, Metis and First Nations youth are also able to access the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, the new Canada Student Service Grant and the Enhanced Student Loans program.

READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

“We recognize more support is needed,” Miller said. “And as I’ve said before, this should only be viewed as the start of our support for urban Indigenous populations in particular.”

Miller said teams are also “working actively” with communities to increase the capacity to support those struggling with their mental health amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This is something that will evolve over time as communities implement the health directives and make sure that they are looking in on each other and that we are supporting them in a comprehensive way,” he said.

Similarly, Canada’s chief medical officer of public health and Indigenous services, Dr. Tom Wong said the government is working with Indigenous partners to ramp up the implementation of the First National Mental Wellness Continuum Framework, as well as the national Inuit suicide prevention strategies.

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“Those are Indigenous-led efforts and we are fully behind supporting those efforts during these very trying times,” he said.

But, Miller conceded that more could be done to help Indigenous communities amid the outbreak.

“We recognize more support is needed,” he said. “And as I’ve said before, these should only be viewed as the start of our support for urban Indigenous populations in particular.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of 11 a.m. ET on Saturday, there were a total of 44,364 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada.

So far, the novel coronavirus has claimed 2,350 lives in the country.