Canada earmarks aid for indigenous communities to prepare for coronavirus

by Jack Graham | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 15 April 2020 15:01 GMT

Junior Peters chants in front of the covered statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, who issued a bounty on the heads of indigenous people, during a protest in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, July 15, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Donovan

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There are fears that the pandemic could hit indigenous people hard given issues such as poverty and their limited access to health care

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By Jack Graham

TORONTO, April 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Canada will spend $130 million ($94 million US) to help its remote northern territories prepare for the coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday, earmarking funds for indigenous people highly vulnerable to a public health crisis.

While only a handful of confirmed cases have been reported in the northern territories, communities there struggle with limited health care and insufficient food supplies, officials said.

More than 800 people in Canada have died of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and the number of confirmed cases has topped 26,000, according to public health officials.

"No Canadian should ever have to worry about where to get their food or how to receive essential health care services," Trudeau said in a statement.

"That is why we are working with the territories and indigenous partners to address the unique needs of northern communities as they respond to COVID-19," he said.

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Concern has been high that the pandemic could hit the territories hard, given existing issues especially among indigenous people of poverty, little access to health care, food insecurity and a severe housing shortage.

Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut announced strict travel bans in late March. As of Tuesday, there were eight confirmed coronavirus cases in Yukon, five in Northwest Territories and none in Nunavut.

"Northern communities, in particular those in remote and fly-in only parts of the country, are uniquely vulnerable during this crisis," Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said in a statement.

The aid package of $130 million for the northern communities included $73 million ($53 million US) to the territories' governments to help prepare their health and social services.

In Nunavut, life expectancy is about 10 years lower than the national average, and about half of the population live in overcrowded homes, which could accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

"Nunavut is chronically underfunded, and we cannot be expected to deal with this new global reality from behind the starting line," said Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq.

"Unfortunately, this funding comes four weeks after our initial request, and the lag has now put us weeks behind in potential staffing and accessing supplies in a market that cannot accommodate delays," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

The aid package included $17 million ($12 million US) to support northern air carriers to help maintain the supply of food and medical supplies and $15 million ($11 million US) to support northern businesses.

"I know entrepreneurs in the North have been hit especially hard by this crisis," Trudeau said at a news conference held outside his residence.

Another $25 million ($18 million) was headed to a federal program which subsidizes food and personal hygiene products.

The funding builds on a separate $305 million ($220 million US) fund aimed to help indigenous communities address immediate needs related to COVID-19. (Reporting by Jack Graham, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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