The coronavirus pandemic has reached practically every spot on Earth, but the final frontier appears to be a remote spot in North America where the total number of infections is officially zero, according to a report.
Officials in Nunavut, a massive but sparsely populated territory in northern Canada, took quick and drastic action when infections rose in March – barring entry to almost everyone who doesn’t live there, the BBC reported.
Residents returning from outside were required to first spend two weeks, at the local government’s expense, in “isolation hubs” — hotels in Winnipeg, Yellowknife, Ottawa or Edmonton – with roaming security guards, according to the outlet.
To date, a little over 7,000 Nunavummiut have spent time in these waypoints on their way back home, though there have been reports that some people broke isolation.
Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, told the BBC that the “fairly drastic” decision to impose the stringent measures was made both due to the population’s potential vulnerability to the disease and the unique challenges of the Arctic region.
About 36,000 people live in Nunavut across 25 communities scattered across its 809,000 square miles — about three times the size of Texas.
The lack of COVID-19 cases is likely to be partly due to natural isolation since those communities can only be reached year-round by air.
Last month, there was an outbreak linked to workers who flew in from the south to a remote gold mine 100 miles from the Arctic Circle, but those were counted as infections in their home jurisdictions, keeping the territory’s case count at zero.
Most of the Nunavut communities don’t have the capacity to perform coronavirus testing locally, so tests have to be flown in and out – and early on, the results could take a week, the BBC reported.
“You’re really, really far behind by the time you can identify and respond,” Patterson said, though efforts are underway to increase testing capacity and turnaround times for results in the territory.
There also are limited medical resources in the area.
The 35-bed acute care Qikiqtani General Hospital in the capital of Iqaluit could handle about 20 coronavirus patients, Patterson said.
In case of an outbreak, “those people who need treatment, or need admission, many of them will wind up having to go south and so that will another load on our Medevac system,” he said.
As a whole, Canada has managed to stem the tide of the outbreak during the summer. As of late last week, there had been 191,732 cases and 9,699 deaths nationwide.