IQALUIT, Nunavut — Canada’s High Arctic may still be free of the novel coronavirus.
A case of COVID-19 supposedly confirmed in the remote Nunavut community of Pond Inlet last week has turned out to be a false positive.
“Huge relief,” said David Stockley, the hamlet’s chief administrative officer.
“It answered a lot of prayers for a lot of people.”
Last Thursday, the territory reported what it thought was its first case of infection — a person in the hamlet of about 1,600 on the northern tip of Baffin Island.
On Monday, the territory’s chief medical health officer said there had been a false positive by a lab in Ontario. Nunavut does its tests twice — once in Iqaluit and then a confirmatory test in the south.
After the initial positive test, Nunavut scrambled an emergency response team to the community to trace the person’s contacts. When all those contacts tested negative in Iqaluit, a request was made to retest the samples of the person thought to be infected.
Watch: Blackfoot doctor says coronavirus spread will devastate Indigenous communities. Story continues below.
The retest reversed the original conclusion.
“We have a very comprehensive system of investigating and tracing COVID-19 in the territory to ensure checks and balances are in place,” Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief medical health officer, said in a release.
“Testing is one component, and further tracing, monitoring and evaluating information helps us capture the whole picture.”
Health officials have feared the appearance of COVID-19 in Arctic communities since the beginning of the pandemic. Their remoteness makes it difficult to move people and equipment, local health-care facilities are easily overwhelmed and overcrowded housing makes it easy for illness to spread.
Nunavut responded swiftly to news of the supposed positive test.
Supplies and an emergency response team of nurses skilled in contact tracing were brought in. All general public travel in or out of the community was banned.
While this is a relief for many Nunavummiut, it does not mean anyone should relax or ease up on physical distancing, hand-washing and cleaning up.Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq
Both stores in town were closed. Stockley said up to 30 people were lined up when they reopened Friday.
“It really did cause a little bit of a panic,” he said. “A lot of people in Nunavut go to the stores every day.”
The local detachment of Canadian Rangers — a largely Indigenous reserve unit of the Canadian Forces — helped keep order, hand out masks and ensure physical distancing in the line.
It was a quiet weekend, said Stockley. People wore masks outside and kept their distance from each other.
“They’ve done a fantastic job.”
The extra measures imposed on Pond Inlet have since been lifted.
Travel between it and other communities in the region can resume. Businesses and other services can open with the same conditions they were under early last week.
Premier Joe Savikataaq said while Nunavut still appears to be free of COVID-19, the war against the novel coronavirus goes on.
“While this is a relief for many Nunavummiut, it does not mean anyone should relax or ease up on physical distancing, hand-washing and cleaning up,” he said in a release.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2020