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With respiratory illnesses rising, health officials plead for small holiday gatherings

Nunavut health authorities are asking people to take precautions during the holidays due to multiple viruses spreading.
Nunavut Health Minister John Main is urging Nunavummiut to take precautions when feeling sick and to hold small gatherings over the upcoming holidays. Screen capture

Nunavut health authorities are asking people to take precautions during the holidays due to multiple viruses spreading.

Influenza, Covid-19 and RSV are all on the rise and are expected to continue to rise as people travel.

“The pandemic has resulted in a shortage of healthcare staff, which is making access to care more difficult. That shortage affects Nunavut twice as much as the rest of the country,” said Nunavut Health Minister John Main on Thursday.

Main said holiday gatherings are likely to cause a surge in respiratory illnesses. This message was repeated by Nunavut’s new chief public health officer, Dr. Sean Wachtel.

“I want to remind people to celebrate safely. There are no public health restrictions but there is still a need to be cautious. I recommend social gatherings be kept small,” said Wachtel.

As of Dec. 12, there have been 86 hospitalizations in Nunavut due to RSV and 493 overall infections. Covid-19 and flu cases are also climbing, said Wachtel.

“As we’ve opened up, we have indeed seen more infections. (In) 2020, when there were restrictions, there were around 269 cases and we had four hospitalizations. In 2021 there were 598 infections, we had nine hospitalizations. As of the 12th of December this year, we’ve had 3,155 infections that we know about and 84 hospitalizations.

“Covid is still out there,” he warned.

In 2021 there were 13 flu infections in total. By Dec. 12 of this year there were 634 cases of influenza diagnosed among Nunavummiut.

“Again, a surge of infections after the easing of pandemic restrictions,” said Wachtel.

Vaccination, testing, wearing a mask when appropriate and staying home while sick were all recommended to help reduce the strain on Nunavut’s healthcare system.

The increase in hospitalizations has also put pressure on southern hospitals where Nunavummiut are sent, most notably Ottawa, said Francois de Wet, the territorial chief of staff for Nunavut’s Department of Health.

“We’ve had a large uptick in the numbers of medevacs we’ve had in the last couple of months,” said de Wet. “As long as we have accepting providers and accepting facilities in the south, we are able to get those patients out. The big problem is going to places that are regularly fertile spots, which are Winnipeg, Ottawa and Edmonton. We’ve had cases where we’ve sent patients to Kingston or other places in Ontario.”

Main urged Nunavummiut to keep their gatherings small despite the holiday occasion.

“It is still possible to take some precaution even as you celebrate,” he said, citing the example of using rapid Covid-19 tests when sick and keeping physically isolated when sick.

“Everyone can help reduce the amount of sickness and keep our communities safe and reduce the strain on the health centres,” said Main.