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Editorial: Moving forward on Nunavut’s Path

It’s been a long road coping with COVID-19, which has impacted nearly every aspect of life across the globe.

It’s been a long road coping with COVID-19, which has impacted nearly every aspect of life across the globe.

On Aug. 3, the Government of Nunavut released its updated version of Nunavut’s Path: Living with COVID-19.

Outlining where we are now and recounting the steps Nunavummiut have taken to get there, the document states: “Today, we know a lot more about COVID-19 than we did in March 2020. While the road ahead still holds a level of uncertainty, the lessons learned, increased capacity in testing and response, and the availability of safe and effective vaccines have greatly reduced the risks the virus poses to Nunavummiut.”

Vaccination campaigns in the territory have brought great success so far, with 68 per cent of Nunavummiut over the age of 12 and non-residents — including rotational workers — having received both doses of vaccine and a further 11 per cent have had their first shot.

Some communities are lagging behind in uptake. Coral Harbour, Whale Cove, Gjoa Haven and Kugaaruk are below the 50 per cent double-vaccinated threshold for reduced restrictions community-wide.

Some of this can be attributed to a less robust uptake in the 12-to-17-year-old age group, where there may have only been one community clinic held at this time. As of Aug. 10, however, there isn’t a single community on the Department of Health’s vaccine information table that has fewer than 50 per cent of eligible persons with at least one shot.

“These factors position us well to work toward living with COVID-19,” states the document. “The virus is now a vaccine preventable disease that no longer requires immediate community shutdowns, drastic public health measures or a complete change to our way of life. Ultimately, the goal is to reach the end of Nunavut’s public health emergency.”

The public health emergency has been renewed 37 times – that’s 74 weeks of living under threat of lockdown, restrictions on gatherings and just about every facet of community-centred life being disrupted.

Nunavummiut are amazing at taking care of one another and found plenty of ways to work around restrictions to make sure their neighbours had enough to eat and that vulnerable populations could still take part in community events. They moved many beloved celebrations online and made the best of the situation at hand.

“As Nunavut works to a time when COVID-19 public health emergencies will no longer be necessary, it will be the actions of all Nunavummiut that determine our success,” said Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq.

This likely won’t occur until after children under 12 can receive vaccines, as herd immunity cannot be achieved before all age groups have some degree of protection.

Coronavirus importation risk is still the greatest challenge Nunavut faces going forward. On Aug. 11 a COVID-19 case was reported at Baffinland’s Mary River mine, where the employee in question tested negative before entering the territory, and tested positive four days later once at the mine site.

At least one contact was a Nunavummiuq employee – one of the concerns that kept the mines closed to workers who live in Nunavut until very recently.

Living with COVID as a vaccine-preventable disease is the reasonable end to what has been a stressful 16 months, taking precautions to keep our communities safe and sacrificing a lot of the connection that keeps us grounded and happy.

The only thing we must caution is to not rest on the laurels of surviving this latest challenge, but to make sure that we take the lessons learned in flexibility and caring for our most vulnerable and apply them to other problems facing the territory and the country as a whole.