- As leaders prepare for labour shortages caused by COVID-19, several First Nations across the country are preparing to expand the Omicron variant.
- Although many Indigenous communities in the province have high vaccination rates, there are active cases in over 40 Indigenous communities.
Several First Nations throughout the nation are bracing for expanding the Omicron variant as leaders start preparing for labor shortages caused by COVID-19.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said, “We are well aware that Omicron is coming.”
Before the holiday season, there were fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 cases on reserves across the country, but that number has quickly risen.
As per data published Friday by the First Nations COVID-19 task force, 1,388 new COVID-19 cases have been reported among Manitoba’s First Nations people in the last week. Although many Indigenous communities in the province have high vaccination rates, there are active cases in over 40 Indigenous communities.
COVID-19-related labor shortages are already affecting health care, policing, and other government sectors across the country, according to Dumas. However, he added, the consequences could be far more severe.
“What has occurred in the past, unfortunately, is that all of the water plant operators have gotten COVID or have had to isolate, but that function still needs to be served for the people,” Dumas explained.
At least ten First Nations in Manitoba have applied travel restrictions or have locked them down to slow the spread of the disease. While the Delta variant remains the most common among Manitoba’s First Nations, the task force predicts that Omicron will overtake Delta by the end of the week.
“The Omicron variant has been creating its way through Manitoba in an unprecedented way,” said Grand Chief Garrison Settee, who embodies northern First Nations in Manitoba, in a press release. “Our leaders are working tirelessly to comprise COVID-19’s spread and make sure that community members have access to critical services.”
Settee went on to say that a shortage of healthcare workers is preventing some First Nations people from getting their third COVID-19 vaccine.
Both chiefs stated that they had contacted provincial and federal authorities.
First Nations recently imposed significant restrictions in Ontario’s northwest. Because none of the 33 First Nations in the Sioux Lookout Area have hospitals, the Sioux Lookout Area First Nations announced a regional lockdown to combat the Omicron variant. According to the local health authority, public health resources are at risk of being overburdened.
This week, half of the Bearskin Lake First Nation population tested positive for COVID-19, isolating a huge proportion of the community.
Only around 30 front-line workers in the remote community, according to Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin, are capable of delivering water, groceries, and other essential supplies to isolated people.
Dr. Lloyd Douglas, a public health physician with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, stated during a news release this week that the situation in Bearskin Lake “clearly demonstrates the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 for First Nations.”
“The consequences are devastating for First Nations communities, which are dealing with major infrastructure scarcities, boil water advisories, overcrowding, and complicated health issues.”
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc stated that the government would do everything possible to assist Indigenous communities affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
First Nations health experts say they’re still waiting to see how Omicron affects Indigenous communities and what challenges the variant may pose during the latest wave of the pandemic.
In many parts of the country, Indigenous people experienced higher infection rates, hospitalization, and death during the second and third waves.
That’s why, according to Dr. Marcia Anderson of the First Nation pandemic response team, they’re proceeding with caution, even as some provinces reduce isolation requirements to five days.
Given the higher risk settings on First Nations, she believes there could be significant risks in releasing potentially still infectious people.
“The COVID virus spreads very easily because of those underlying factors like overcrowding,” Anderson said in an online video on Friday, adding that First Nations people are also at a higher risk of severe outcomes.
“In making these changes, we want to be more cautious,” she added.