PSAC is calling on the federal and territorial governments to bolster access to healthcare and housing immediately to protect northern communities from the COVID-19 virus.
Northern healthcare workers must also be provided with emergency medical supplies such as test kits, masks, hand sanitizers, ventilators and other necessary equipment to help them manage a potential outbreak.
All workers who aren’t deemed critical should also be able to work from home to prevent the spread of the virus.
On March 18, the federal government announced a $305-million investment to help Indigenous communities deal with the pandemic, but gave few details about how the money would be allocated.
If the virus continues to spread across the three territories, many northern communities are particularly at risk because they lack key infrastructure, housing, healthcare and other public services.
Health officials are concerned that the highly contagious coronavirus could result in a much higher rate of fatalities if it reaches northern Indigenous communities.
Indigenous peoples deal with higher rates of pre-existing conditions like tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, malnutrition and diabetes. Many communities also face a chronic shortage of nurses and other healthcare professionals.
While public health emergencies have been declared in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, these must be accompanied by proactive measures to protect healthcare workers and the northerners they serve.
Resources must also be set aside to deal with the housing crisis in the North, which is causing overcrowding and makes it virtually impossible for anyone exposed to the virus to self-isolate.
An additional challenge for remote or fly-in communities is the need to travel to larger urban centres for medical appointments. Patients who took medical travel for appointments during the 2009 H1N1 crisis were identified as the source of outbreaks in remote Indigenous communities.
The government must also guard against rising food insecurity in the North and prevent a sharp increase in food prices due to COVID-19. PSAC praises the work of some northern retailers like The North West Company that have frozen food prices for the next 60 days.