Northern Manitoba travel ban welcomed by community leaders

Leaders in Northern Manitoba communities are thankful for the travel restrictions placed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin issued a ban April 16 for non-essential travel to northern and remote communities until May 1, starting on Friday (April 17).

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Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said this ban is an important measure to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus to First Nations in Northern Manitoba.

“On behalf of MKO, I send my thanks to Dr. Roussin as well as the province of Manitoba for ensuring this measure is put into place,” Settee said. “We currently have no cases of COVID-19 in our MKO First Nations and our leaders are doing everything within their power to prevent the introduction of this virus into our communities.”

Settee added that the northern First Nations are particularly vulnerable to this virus as they lack health-care infrastructure, have understaffed nursing stations and lack housing that would better implement safety measures.

Flin Flon NDP MLA Tom Lindsey told the Winnipeg Sun April 17 that he believes that the restrictions were necessary due to the contagion of COVID-19.

“So many of our northern communities do not have access to decent medical services. A lot of the more remote communities have a nursing station but they do not have a hospital,” he said.

“Even in Flin Flon, our hospital is so restricted in what it can do and the number of doctors we have.”

Lindsey said he thinks people living in Northern Manitoba have to do more than is expected of them because of the limited medical services.

Thompson NDP MLA Danielle Adams said the restrictions were a welcome announcement that needed to be in place to protect the people in Northern Manitoba.

“It was a great first step but now we need the government to continue listening to northerners and do more testing, including adding more testing sites,” Adams said. “They also need to announce where COVID-19 is in the north so communities can make choices that work best for them.”

Adams added that she encourages the people in Northern Manitoba to contact her office if they are struggling to work or return home because of the travel restrictions.

The Pas NDP MLA Amanda Lathlin said the restrictions should have come much earlier in regards to protecting Northern Manitoba from the virus.

“This will have a positive impact in the community especially with our most vulnerable, which happens to be the First Nation communities. It will provide more security with the people because they are already worried about the health-care system here,” she said. “If we start having people test positive here, our people have to be flown out to Winnipeg for their intensive care unit beds, so this provides a side relief whereby at least there are other components to protect the communities in Northern Manitoba.”

— Nicole Wong covers northern and Indigenous issues for the Winnipeg Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.

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