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Nunavut community declares state of emergency over rising COVID-19 numbers


IQALUIT, Nunavut — The Nunavut community of Arviat has declared a state of emergency over rising COVID-19 case numbers.

There were 27 active cases Wednesday in the hamlet of about 2,800 people, which lies on the western coast of Hudson Bay.

Arviat was previously the centre of Nunavut's largest COVID-19 outbreak with 307 of the territory's 351 total infections.

The community is now under a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with four additional bylaw officers hired for enforcement. The emergency order states officers are to patrol 24 hours a day.

Hunters and people heading to and from work are excluded from the curfew. All stores and businesses must close during those hours, although essential services such as emergency maintenance and oil delivery can continue.

The order also states that only one person per household can shop in retail stores at a time.

Arviat Mayor Joe Savikataaq Jr. said the decision to impose a curfew was not an easy one and was made after community members asked for it.

He said the point of the curfew is to stop gatherings and bring COVID-19 case numbers back down.

"The reason we did this was to finally put it aside and turn the page and start over again. Enough is enough," he said.

"We need to get our life back. It's been way too long."

Savikataaq Jr. also said people who break the curfew will be reported to the RCMP and could face fines, although an amount has yet to be determined.

"Fines will be the last resort," he said.

The community, which is currently the only place in Nunavut with active cases, has been under a strict lockdown for 104 days, since early November. Travel has remained restricted and all schools and non-essential businesses have been closed.

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic took place in Arviat last month and a clinic for the second required dose is taking place this month.

Savikataaq Jr. said overcrowded housing in the community has been "a perfect breeding ground for COVID."

"When one person gets it in a family, for the 10 or 15 people who live in a two-bedroom, the chances of them getting it too are quite high," he said.

"Cases have been slowly rising. We want to put a stop to that. Everyone has been trying. But due to lack of housing, that's very hard to do."

He said he hopes Nunavut residents won't judge people in Arviat because of its COVID-19 cases.

"No one really knows what we're going through, what circumstances we have to face. We are doing our best. We are trying."

Arviat's council will decide on Monday whether the state of emergency will be renewed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

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