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Gahcho Kué Mine Covid outbreak declared over

Gahcho Kue Aerial_September 2016
"The last person diagnosed with Covid-19 during their employment at Gahcho Kué during this outbreak developed symptoms on Feb. 23," according to the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer. photo courtesy of De Beers

The Government of the Northwest Territories declared the Gahcho Kue Mine Covid-19 outbreak officially over in a news release issued Friday.

The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer announced the coronavirus outbreak on Feb. 3 at the diamond mine, located about 280 km northeast of Yellowknife.

"The last person diagnosed with Covid-19 during their employment at Gahcho Kué during this outbreak developed symptoms on Feb. 23," states the news release.

Dr. Andy Delli Pizzi, the NWT's deputy chief public health officer, stated that the total number of confirmed cases related to the outbreak was 20. Of those, 12 were out-of-territory workers and eight were NWT residents. In total, the OCPHO stated that three workers were hospitalized as a result of the outbreak and were required to self-isolate for prolonged periods of time.

"All of those who developed Covid-19 during this outbreak have recovered, meaning they do not have active infection that can be transmitted to others," Delli Pizzi added.

He stated that the work that went into assessing and self-isolating workers as well as relocating workers to Yellowknife or home communities was a major undertaking involving his office, mine management and medics.

"Public health nurses and health-care workers in Yellowknife provided ongoing assessment and health services for workers," he stated. "Most of all, the outbreak impacted workers, their families and their communities."

Gahcho Kué public health measures

The OCPHO acknowledged efforts by mine management to implement a wide range of measures to help prevent further Covid-19 infections at the site.

Among them included enhanced pre-travel telephone screening before employees travel to the mine, mandatory rapid antigen tests for all employees prior to boarding aircraft to the mine.

"Presumptive tests will result in individuals being denied travel to the mine," the doctor added.

Other measures include expanding testing to include routine tests for all employees at day four and day eight after arrival, in addition to inbound and outbound testing.

There will also be further changes to work practices to reduce the chance of transmission such as making it mandatory that inbound employees remain in their rooms pending results of arrival PCR tests.

In addition to these measures, the GNWT has prioritized vaccinating both resident and non-resident rotational workers on mineral and petroleum projects in the NWT. Increasing immunity at these worksites will protect NWT residents, their families, and the communities these workers return to between shifts, particularly the most remote and vulnerable communities with limited access to health care. Every dose given in the NWT will continue to boost the territory’s overall defense against Covid-19, the OCPHO stated.

The decision to vaccinate non-resident rotational workers is supported by the federal government and is occurring in other jurisdictions across Canada reliant on transitional workers to deliver essential services. Recent remote worksite outbreaks in the NWT and the development of new Covid-19 variants in other parts of Canada have highlighted the importance of protecting rotational workers living and working inside our borders.