The north coast of Labrador is a remote place, with no road access to the Inuit and Innu communities and, this time of year, the only way in is by snowmobile or plane. The population there is vulnerable to COVID-19, with overcrowding and ongoing health issues long-standing problems in the region.
Gerald Asivak, Minister of Health and Social Development with the Nunatsiavut Government, said they are concerned about what would happen if the virus hit the isolated area.
“Our population is vulnerable in many ways,” Asivak said. “Our communities are small with limited health care scopes. They’re clinics, not major health centres like in the urban areas.” There are a number of people who suffer from diabetes, COPD, tuberculosis and other ailments in the region, Asivak said, which adds to the concern.
The clinics they do have don’t have many staff either and the closest hospital is in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a plane ride away.
Asivak said they’ve been talking frequently with all levels of government and the regional health authority, Labrador Grenfell Health, on ways to keep the population safe and how to handle it if COVID-19 does hit the Labrador north coast.
Nunatsiavut has been asking people who enter the region to self-isolate since March 18 and are discouraging travel between communities. They closed all their offices weeks ago and public gatherings are no longer allowed.
They are allowing travel for essential workers and services but have been asking the people to stay home, which has mostly worked. He said the AngajukKâks (mayors) have been hearing of people going between the towns by snowmobile but they can’t really stop it.
“There’s no strict enforcement as we don’t have the authority as an Inuit government to go out and say to people ‘why are you coming into Postville from Rigolet, for example,’” he said. “We can’t stop it. Even the RCMP, they don’t have the human resources to do that. So, we’re just asking people to stay home. Just stay home.”
Yvonne Jones, Member of Parliament for Labrador, told SaltWire she’s been working with LGH on what the plan will be for this pandemic, community by community. She said it’s inevitable it will hit small communities in the region at some point so that is what needs to be focused on.
“We really need to get assurances from the health authorities on what that plan is, the next steps,” she said. “How are communities preparing themselves from a health care perspective? How prepared are we, that’s the question we need to be asking right now.”
The federal government gave $45 million to the Inuit governments across the country a few weeks ago to deal with COVID-19 impacts, with just over $5 million of that going to NG. So far, they’ve announced support for food banks and freezer programs, cleaning supplies and support packages with puzzles and games to promote mental wellness during self-isolation. A home heating program is also slated to be announced.
Jones said the federal government recognizes that small communities have limited resources for things like areas for people in self-isolation or those who have the virus and they are working on a way to get funding to communities to help with that.
“We’re going to work with the communities in any way we can. We’re in week four of this pandemic and we know the peak is coming, we need to make sure we’re ready for this.”
SaltWire reached out to Labrador Grenfell Health for an interview on the subject but was told there are ongoing talks with NG and they would not be providing comment.