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First Nations brace for labour challenges brought by Omicron-fuelled COVID-19 surge

Many First Nations throughout the nation are bracing for the unfold of the Omicron variant as leaders put together for labour shortages brought on by COVID-19 that might be extra extreme in Indigenous communities than elsewhere in Canada.

“We’re properly conscious that Omicron is coming,” mentioned Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Meeting of Manitoba Chiefs.

There have been fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 circumstances on reserves in Canada earlier than the vacation season, however that quantity has shortly surged.

In Manitoba alone over the previous week, there have been 1,388 new COVID-19 circumstances amongst First Nations individuals, in accordance with knowledge from the First Nations COVID-19 job drive launched Friday. There are energetic circumstances in additional than 40 Indigenous communities within the province, regardless of many having excessive vaccination charges.

First Nations probably will not be spared the COVID-19-related labour shortages seen in well being care, policing and different public sectors throughout the nation, Dumas mentioned. However the impacts will be way more vital, he added.

“What has occurred previously, sadly, is you’ve all of the water plant operators getting COVID or having to isolate, however that operate nonetheless must be served for the individuals,” he mentioned.

To sluggish the unfold, at the least 10 First Nations in Manitoba have applied journey restrictions or been locked down. Whereas the Delta variant stays dominant amongst Manitoba First Nations, the duty drive mentioned it is anticipated to be overtaken by Omicron by subsequent week.

“The Omicron variant has been making its manner via Manitoba in an unprecedented manner,” Grand Chief Garrison Sofa, who represents northern First Nations in Manitoba, mentioned in a information launch. “Our leaders are working tirelessly to comprise the unfold of COVID-19 and guarantee important providers can be found to group members.”

Sofa mentioned a scarcity of health-care workers is affecting the power of some First Nations individuals to amass their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Each chiefs mentioned they’ve reached out to provincial and federal officers.

Impacts ‘devastating’ to communities

In Ontario’s northwest, First Nations additionally launched vital restrictions lately. The Sioux Lookout Space First Nations declared a regional lockdown to curb the Omicron variant as not one of the 33 First Nations have hospitals. The native well being authority mentioned it means they face an imminent risk of overloading public well being assets.

Half of the inhabitants of about 400 in Bearskin Lake First Nation, about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, examined optimistic for COVID-19 this week, which has left a big proportion of the group in isolation.

Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin mentioned Friday that there have been solely about 30 front-line employees within the distant group in a position to ship water, groceries and different important provides to people who find themselves isolating.

Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin of Bearskin Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario says half of the group of roughly 400 individuals has examined optimistic for COVID-19 and there are solely about 30 front-line employees in a position to present providers. (Submitted by Lefty Kamenawatamin)

“The state of affairs in Bearskin Lake clearly demonstrates the disproportionate affect of COVID-19 for First Nations,” Dr. Lloyd Douglas, a public well being doctor with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Well being Authority, mentioned in a information launch this week.

“The impacts are devastating to First Nations communities who face main infrastructure shortages, boil-water advisories, overcrowding and sophisticated well being situations.”

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc mentioned Friday that the federal authorities will do no matter it might probably to assist Indigenous communities dealing with COVID-19 crises.

First Nations well being specialists say they’re nonetheless watching to see the impacts of Omicron and what challenges the variant may carry to Indigenous communities throughout the newest wave of the pandemic.

The second and third waves noticed greater charges of an infection, hospitalization and demise amongst Indigenous individuals in lots of areas of the nation.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, public well being lead of Manitoba’s First Nations Pandemic Response Co-ordination Staff, mentioned that is why it is approaching choices with extra warning, at the same time as some provinces drop isolation necessities to 5 days.

covid mba 20210305
Dr. Marcia Anderson, public well being lead of Manitoba’s First Nations Pandemic Response Co-ordination Staff, says new five-day isolation guidelines in some provinces may pose vital dangers for Indigenous individuals. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

She mentioned there might be vital dangers sending people who find themselves probably nonetheless infectious out of isolation, contemplating the higher-risk settings on First Nations.

“The COVID virus spreads very simply as a consequence of these underlying elements like overcrowded housing,” Anderson mentioned in a web-based video on Friday, including that First Nations individuals are additionally at the next danger of extreme outcomes.

“We need to be extra cautious in making these modifications,” she added.

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