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Iglulik faces 'tragedy of indifference' from federal government during pandemic

Stephen Frampton of Iglulik. photo courtesy of Stephen Frampton
Stephen Frampton of Iglulik. photo courtesy of Stephen Frampton

My sister is among the Canadians stranded in Peru.

Guest columnist Stephen Frampton has been a resident of Iglulik for the past year and a half.
photo courtesy of Stephen Frampton

My family, as you may expect, is quite concerned about her wellbeing. Peru has closed its borders and is enforcing quarantine with its military. We contacted our MP and within a few hours had a response. The Government of Canada seems to be in constant contact with her and her fellow stranded citizens. The Prime Minister himself spends a considerable amount of time bringing attention to Canadians abroad. The repatriation effort is underway and even somewhat successful; my sister is flying home in a couple days. In the meantime, she's sipping Peruvian wine and hanging out with roommates in their AirBnB.

Peru has 1,065 confirmed cases of Covid-19 while Canada is averaging approximately that many new cases per day. Even if the health system in Peru is underwhelming, it seems that a lot of effort and worry is being put into taking Canadians out of what is, according to my sister and the data, a fairly safe and controlled situation.

Compare that to where I live in Canada: Iglulik. We're an Inuit community of about 1,800 people more than a few degrees of latitude above the Arctic Circle. Iglulik has no doctors and seven beds in our health centre. When Iglulik phoned the federal government to ask what they were going to do for Northern Indigenous communities, they replied by saying that they were flying in tents to hold the infected people. They seemed to forget that it's -30 C outside. Moreover, people here live in crowded houses, often with 10 or more people. It's pretty difficult to self-isolate when you and your family share one room of a house. When the virus does get here, it's going to spread like wildfire. Many people have respiratory health issues. Nunavut has seven ventilators. The virus, which attacks the lungs, is going to be particularly deadly here.

When you get tested for the virus, the test is flown to Winnipeg and then has to be returned. With increasingly limited flights, the community may not receive the results for possibly 10-15 days. That's plenty of time to infect every house in Iglulik. After Covid-19 has been known about for a month, funds have finally been released, which, according to the Mayor of Iglulik, they haven't seen yet and have been given no instruction on how to use. Iglulik, for its part, is working outside the government because up until now, the government has been woefully incompetent in responding to this crisis.

In other words, Canada’s North and the people who live here are on the verge of a tragedy of indifference. This is in stark contrast to Canada's action in repatriating my sister from Peru.

If I wanted Canada's attention, maybe I should be in Peru.