Many places in this country, such as Ontario and Alberta, are in the middle of serious Covid-19 outbreaks. Health care workers and facilities are stressed to the limit and people are dying every day. In an effort to limit further virus transmission, governments in these places instituted severe lockdowns over the holidays. Most businesses are closed, visits between households are banned, and vacation travel is strongly discouraged.
At a time when families are used to coming together, most did not have this opportunity. Many I am sure made the most of a bad situation, grinning and bearing it while waiting for better times in a post-vaccination future.
Currently, people are rightly outraged as they learn that some of their senior government officials ignored their own advice and proceeded to vacation in tropical destinations or visit family across Canada over the holidays. It takes a particular tone-deaf sense of entitlement to do this, particularly in areas where there are severe Covid-19 outbreaks and associated restrictions on people’s freedoms.
While it may have been bad form for a handful of senior GNWT officials to leave the territory over the holidays, it is probably not much to fuss about. There is no outbreak in this territory, and as we all know anyone coming back to the territory is faced with the daunting prospect of 14-day quarantine, whether they are some high-ranking official or not. Any of us can make the choice to leave, as long as we adhere to the quarantine upon our return.
Our premier issued only a very soft pre-holiday message recommending against holiday travel, probably understanding that the real deterrent to travel is not anything she might say, but rather the prospect of quarantine itself.
Nonetheless, one can’t help be disappointed that some of our senior officials did not choose to lead by example. If this pandemic has demonstrated anything, it’s that Covid-19 can be contained when everyone plays by the same rules and pulls in the same direction, with trusted and consistent leadership from elected and senior officials.
Look no further than our neighbours to the east where the community of Arviat has just pulled through the worst of an outbreak, by far the most serious in any of the Canadian territories. 222 residents contracted Covid-19 in that community, the last of which recovered last week. The community has been under a severe lockdown, with no travel in or out, no visiting between households, and all but the most essential programs and services shut down.
Despite these conditions, people came together. The community radio became a lifeline of social contact, with residents hosting radio games and contests to keep people occupied and connected. Donations of food and supplies came from neighbouring communities, including country food harvested during community hunts. The premier of Nunavut, himself from Arviat, demonstrated calm leadership while mobilizing government support and issuing regular statements outlining containment and recovery plans.
Arviat has nearly pulled through an outbreak that had the chance to devastate the community. Like most of our Northern communities, Arviat has limited health infrastructure, severe overcrowding in homes, and many residents with elevated susceptibility to disease and illness. The cards were stacked against Arviat. But with remarkable solidarity, they seem to have pulled through.
I had a chat with Nunavut’s minister of health while sitting in the Iqaluit airport some months ago, when there was still a NWT/Nunavut travel bubble. He said that one positive thing that the pandemic has done is that it has brought us Northerners a little closer together again, and that in this time of need we need to rely on each other a little more and pull together in the same direction more consistently. Let’s try in 2021 to all exemplify this a little better.