Ontario asks for military help at First Nation overwhelmed by COVID-19

Ontario asks for military help at First Nation overwhelmed by COVID-19-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
A nurse works at the arena in Bearskin Lake First Nation. The northern Ontario community of some 400 people has been overwhelmed by a COVID-19 outbreak. (Submitted by Sharon Angeconeb)

Ontario has asked for the military to be sent to Bearskin Lake First Nation to help the northern community with its rapidly growing COVID-19 outbreak. 

The formal request comes five days after Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin publicly asked Ottawa for military support. Pressure on the federal government has been growing throughout the week, as case counts have risen and staff have become overwhelmed, despite assistance from other nearby First Nations.

At least 200 people in Bearskin Lake — a community of roughly 400, some 600 kilometres north from Thunder Bay — have tested positive for the virus in the last 10 days. More than half of the community is in quarantine.

“Bearskin Lake First Nation has fewer than 20 staff members trying to assist hundreds of community members who are unable to leave their homes to obtain necessities, including firewood for heating, food, and medicine,” said Ontario Solicitor General Slyvia Jones in a letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

The letter asks for the support to begin immediately and continue 14 days from the date of deployment, with an option to extend by up to two weeks, or until the outbreak is manageable with local resources.

The letter also makes note of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in First Nations across Ontario, including outbreaks in Ginoogaming, Aroland and Attawapiskat.

“The [provincial emergency operations centre] is also aware of additional First Nation communities in Ontario that are experiencing similar COVID-19 related emergencies who may also be in future need of federal assistance for similar tasks,” said the letter.

The federal government has not yet announced a formal response, but late Thursday evening, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Twitter that federal officials have received the request and are working on it.


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