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Ottawa providing nearly $20M to help Nunavut combat growing coronavirus outbreak

Click to play video 'Nunavut lockdown underway to curb recent COVID-19 outbreaks' Nunavut lockdown underway to curb recent COVID-19 outbreaks
WATCH ABOVE: Nunavut lockdown underway to curb recent COVID-19 outbreaks (Nov. 18, 2020) – Nov 18, 2020

Ottawa is contributing nearly $20 million in federal funding to the Nunavut government and Inuit communities to help combat a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

The funding announced late Wednesday by the ministries of Indigenous services, northern affairs and economic development will go toward food support, personal protective equipment and other essential needs during the territory-wide lockdown imposed last week.

Read more: ‘All it takes is one case’: How coronavirus cases suddenly spiked across Nunavut

Over $2 million of the funding will also help support remote education needs, including expanding broadband internet access through the territory.

“COVID-19 has hit the Kivalliq region quickly and is testing our limited resources and capacity,” Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq said in a statement.

“(The federal government’s) immediate financial assistance in response to the outbreak, and their swift action to provide support where we need it, is truly appreciated.”

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Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Nunavut reports ten new COVID-19 cases' Coronavirus: Nunavut reports ten new COVID-19 cases
Coronavirus: Nunavut reports ten new COVID-19 cases – Nov 20, 2020

Nunavut was the only jurisdiction in Canada without any local COVID-19 cases until the beginning of November, but infections have snowballed quickly since then. Eleven new cases Wednesday brought the territory’s total to 155, only two of which have recovered.

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Lawmakers and health experts say overcrowded housing, food insecurity and high unemployment have led to the rapid rise of coronavirus cases, which are now nearly three times the combined totals for northern neighbours Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Statistics Canada says 57 per cent of people living in Nunavut are food insecure. Nunavut Housing Corp. figures show 56 per cent of Nunavut Inuit also live in overcrowded homes.

Read more: Nunavut announces 2-week shutdown to curb spread of coronavirus

“We recognize that Nunavut has unique needs,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said in a statement.

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“We are actively working with the territorial government, Inuit leaders and other partners to ensure necessary resources are in place to support affected communities, and combat the spread of COVID-19.”

The largest investment within the funding to the territory is $6.5 million for municipal services like water and sewage, transportation of food and medical supplies, and additional medical personnel.

Eight-million dollars will go to Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the Kivallliq Inuit Association for food and supply hampers, along with land initiatives like food harvesting.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Nunavut enters 2-week lockdown amid ‘significant’ rise in COVID-19 cases' Coronavirus: Nunavut enters 2-week lockdown amid ‘significant’ rise in COVID-19 cases
Coronavirus: Nunavut enters 2-week lockdown amid ‘significant’ rise in COVID-19 cases – Nov 18, 2020

The lockdown that went into effect on Nov. 18 shuttered all schools and non-essential businesses throughout the territory. The hospital in Iqaluit and community health centres are taking patients only by appointment or in an emergency.

The lockdown was ordered after the number of COVID-19 cases started rising in the Kivalliq region on the western side of Hudson Bay.

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Nunavut went through a similar shutdown in the spring as the pandemic first swept across the country, but restrictions were lifted because there were no cases.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, says this second round of restrictions is likely to be lifted in regions with no cases of COVID-19 as of Dec. 2.

—With files from the Canadian Press