Editorial: Loosened travel rules at time when new cases of COVID going up could be cause for concern

The timing of Vale Manitoba Operations unveiling a plan to bring some contractors from Ontario or points further east to Thompson without requiring them to self-isolate is both necessary and unfortunate.

The necessary part of the equation is a result of the fact that the company apparently doesn’t have workers who can do the maintenance shutdown tasks the contractors are required for employed in Thompson full-time. The fact that they don’t is likely a result of past company decisions, but it seems that, for safety reasons and to ensure infrastructure is properly maintained and operating, outside help is needed.

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It’s unfortunate because it comes at a time that, as a result of some public health restrictions being lifted and eased, Manitoba is experiencing more new cases of COVID-19 than it has in weeks, with 18 new cases reported over the weekend leading up to July 20. Granted, there have still only been three in the Northern Regional Health Authoirty area since the first positive test for the novel coronavirus was reported in Manitoba March 12, but Thompson and other communities in the area can’t expect that streak, a result of both luck and of stringent public health measures, to last forever. 

Nunavut was, until recently, free of any cases of COVID-19. But last week, three presumptive cases were reported, all among mine employees who travelled into the northern territory from outside the region. Most likely, the tests will prove to be accurate. There simply haven’t been enough tests done in Nunavut to certify their lab results without secondary testing by another lab.

The fact that miners travelling to Nunavut imported the territory’s first presumed cases of COVID-19 does not mean that mining contractors travelling into Thompson will do the same, but it does indicate that, as United Steelworkers Local 6166 president Warren Luky says, there is a risk. Even with the requirements placed on these contractors by Vale and the province, like receiving medical clearance before travelling to Thompson and self-isolating in their accommodations while here, are not foolproof. At least one of the presumptive positive tests in Nunavut did not occur until several days after the person who tested positive arrived. What’s more, it isn’t necessarily possible for someone to completely cut off contact with other people, even if they do follow all the rules, which people are not always inclined to do or to be truthful about when they don’t. If a contractor is staying in a hotel, someone who lives in Thompson has to clean that room at some point. Though the novel coronavirus may not live as long on surfaces or be as easily transmittable to different people touching an infected surface as previously thought, the risk isn’t zero.

It has possibly been easy to believe in Manitoba, and particularly in the north,  that perhaps we would escape the worst of COVID-19 and, so far, we have. But it’s important to guard against complacency. We now have more outsiders coming in, the number of cases in the province has started growing again recently and people have likely been letting their guard down after more than three months without a positive test in the north. Everyone should continue to do their best to try to delay the virus’s arrival because once it does gain a foothold, it could be difficult to control, particularly come September, when students will likely be attending classes in person again.

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