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First Nation on Ontario-Manitoba border to enter lockdown over COVID-19 surge in region

Iskatewizaagegan 39 is advising people to stock up on prescriptions and groceries ahead of the lockdown that will see offices and the local school closed.
Iskatewizaagegan 39 is advising people to stock up on prescriptions and groceries ahead of the lockdown that will see offices and the local school closed. EPA/LYNN BO BO

A First Nation that sits on the border between northwestern Ontario and Manitoba will impose a lockdown starting Friday as COVID-19 cases climb in the region.

Iskatewizaagegan 39 — also known as Shoal Lake 39 — announced the coming measures late Wednesday, advising people to stock up on prescriptions and groceries ahead of the lockdown that will see offices and the local school closed.

Read more: Coronavirus surge a ‘wake up call’ for Kenora area, northwestern Ontario medical officer says

The measure from the chief and council comes after two people in nearby Shoal Lake 40 recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Shoal Lake 39 Chief Gerald Lewis said residents in the community of about 400 people are worried, but they understand the seriousness of the situation.

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“We keep our fingers crossed. That’s all we can do,” Lewis said by phone on Thursday. He said the lockdown will be reassessed after seven days, but is likely to continue given the high rates of infection nearby.

The First Nation is located near Winnipeg and Steinbach, Man., two cities where COVID-19 infections have skyrocketed recently. The two Shoal Lake 40 residents are believed to have contracted the illness in Winnipeg, Lewis said.

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There’s also concern about the growing number of cases in the Kenora, Ont., region, where the nearest hospitals are located. The Northwestern Health Unit’s top doctor warned the public this week about increasing infection risk in the area.

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Dr. Kit Young Hoon urged residents to take precautions by avoiding unnecessary travel and not socializing with other households indoors.

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“This surge is our region’s wake-up call,” Hoon said in a statement Wednesday.

“The risk of transmission of COVID-19 is higher in the Kenora area. We’ve seen the devastation that COVID-19 has brought to other areas in Canada, and we need our residents to do everything they can to prevent the spread.”

Read more: Ontario reports 1,210 new coronavirus cases, 28 more deaths

The region’s positivity rate for COVID-19 is now six times higher than it was in the summer, according to the local health unit, noting that the positivity rate is now similar to some areas in southern Ontario that are battling an increasingly deadly second wave of the pandemic.

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In the past 17 days, the health unit said 10 positive cases have been reported in the Kenora region.

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Three people have been hospitalized with symptoms since the beginning of November.

One of those people is a Shoal Lake 40 resident who was recently airlifted to a hospital, Lewis said. The individual is well-known in both neighbouring communities.

Read more: Coronavirus: Ontario to discuss new restrictions for Toronto, Peel and York

The health unit covers about one-fifth of the province’s landmass and includes 19 municipalities and 39 First Nation communities.

Manitoba, which has the highest per capita coronavirus infection rate in Canada, announced Thursday it’s tightening the rules for social gatherings and shopping.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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