COVID-19 spreading in Quebec’s northernmost region for first time during pandemic

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Paul Chiasson/ The Canadian Press

Health authorities in Quebec’s northernmost region are restricting travel amid an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections in the area.

Dr. Marie Rochette, the director of public health in Nunavik, ordered the suspension of flights between the region’s two coasts — on Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay — on Tuesday.

Travel in and out of the region for non-essential purposes has also been restricted due to “the rapid evolution of the transmission of COVID-19 in the communities of Nunavik” and “the importance of community transmission in some communities, especially those on the Ungava coast,” according to the health order.

This is the first time there has been widespread community transmission of the virus in the region, according to the health board.

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“Up to now, the individuals who tested positive were travellers. These persons have been quickly identified by the entry management protocol, so the risk has been rapidly controlled,” Kathleen Poulin, a spokeswoman for the regional health board wrote in an email. “However, some of the recent cases are not linked to travel.”

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Poulin said the health board has detected 27 new cases in the region, bringing the total number of active cases in Nunavik to 96. She said there have been confirmed cases in six communities, along with evidence of community transmission in a seventh community.

There are also nine cases linked to a facility in Montreal that provides support, including accommodations, for people from Nunavik who have to travel south for medical appointments, Poulin said.

Five communities have been placed under the red alert level, with non-essential services closed and private gatherings banned. A curfew is in effect in some of those communities.

According to Quebec’s public health institute, there are 721.6 active cases per 100,000 people in Nunavik, making it the most affected part of the province on a per-capita basis. Provincewide, there are 44.8 active cases per 100,000 people.

The provincial Health Department reports one person is in hospital due to COVID-19 in Nunavik. There have been no deaths linked to the virus in the region since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Nunavik has the lowest vaccination rate against COVID-19 in the province, according to the Institut national de santé publique du Québec. The institute said 66.7 per cent of people 12 and over in the region have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 87.6 per cent of all Quebec residents 12 and over.

Across the province, 340 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Tuesday, along with four additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus. The Health Department said 259 people were in hospital, unchanged from the day before, and 66 people were in intensive care, a decline of three.

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