Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

A remote indigenous community in northern Ontario has called on the Canadian military to send staff to help respond to a COVID-19 outbreak that, according to Bearskin Lake First Nation, has now infected nearly half of its residents. .

Located 425 km (264 miles) north of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Bearskin Lake First Nation is accessible by air throughout the year and via an ice rink during the winter.

The community declared a state of emergency on December 29 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, and said Monday that 174 residents – nearly 50 percent of its reserve population – tested positive for COVID-19.

“The virus is malicious, and it does not discriminate,” Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin said in a statement. statement, calling on Canada to deploy the military to assist the community.

“Our babies and children, mothers and the elderly were all affected. We are staggering at the speed of spread of this potentially deadly disease. This outbreak has stretched our resources and our capacity to the point of breaking out. ”

When the pandemic broke out in 2020, indigenous leaders in Canada warned that their communities could be hit harder due to systemic problems, including a lack of clean water on some reserves, limited access to health care and medical staff, and overcrowded housing.

Others have raised fears that the proximity to sprawling work camps – populated by a transient workforce – to indigenous communities could lead to COVID-19 outbreaks and run the risk of putting pressure on local health networks.

In some cases, First Nations communities barriers erected to block access to reserves in an effort to prevent residents, especially elders, from contracting the virus.

On Sunday afternoon, Canada’s Home Secretary Patty Hajdu said on Twitter that the department has approved $ 378,643 ($ 483,000 Canadian dollars) “for a number of resources” for Bearskin Lake First Nation, in addition to other support during the past month.

“The funding approved today will support food security, PPE (personal protective equipment), funding for local community COVID workers, and supplies such as woodcarving and collection, as requested by the community,” Hajdu said.

In addition, in collaboration with local and regional authorities, the minister said Indigenous Services Canada had mobilized a rapid response team from coronavirus to the community, as well as deployed three primary care nurses, a paramedic and two environmental health officials.

However, Bearskin Lake First Nation said Monday that “there is now an urgent need for outside health and other workers to help operate the community’s crisis care system 24 hours a day” because most households are under quarantine and deliveries of food, water , chopped needed. wood and medicine.

“We have requested financial and other support from the federal government, but we have been informed that the assistance we will receive is minimal,” said Kamenawatamin, the chief.

“We will not get money to bring crisis personnel to Bearskin Lake – which indicates to us that we are on our own. I must now beg Canada and Canadians for their assistance and request that the army be deployed to us immediately to assist us. “

A spokesman for Indigenous Services Canada told Al Jazeera on Monday that he was working with Bearskin Lake leaders, as well as local and local health authorities, “to support the community in implementing immediate measures to stop further distribution and resources and support. provide what is necessary to protect residents and ensure that health protocols are undertaken effectively ”.

“ISC is reconsidering the situation on a daily basis,” Megan MacLean said in an email. “Given the recent communication from the principal and community about supports, we are continuing with our assessments and hope to provide another update soon.”

She said the department has allocated more than $ 3.37 million ($ 4.3 million Canadian dollars) directly to Bearskin Lake First Nation’s COVID-19 response since March 2020.

MacLean also said Indigenous Services Canada has approved more than $ 19.77m ($ 25.2m Canadian dollars) for the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority to provide “insulation capacity, supplies and transportation of materials” to 22 communities, including Bearskin Lake, in 2021-2022 supply.

The Department of National Defense did not respond on Monday to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on whether military personnel would be sent to the community.

In December 2020, the Canadian government sent the army to help a remote First Nations community in central Manitoba province deal with a COVID-19 outbreak after Shamattawa First Nation requested assistance.

Canada shipped military personnel to conduct coronavirus contact detection and other health investigations in Garden Hill First Nation, more than 600 km (373 miles) north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in January 2021. The next month the army was also deploy to Pauingassi First Nation, about 280 km (174 miles) from Winnipeg, to respond to an increase in cases there.

As of December 30, Indigenous Services Canada said 1,559 active COVID-19 cases have been reported on First Nations reserves across the country.

The department also said that on December 14, the rate of reported active cases among First Nations people living in the reserve was 198.9 per 100,000 – twice the rate in the general Canadian population.

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