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First Nations should only lift COVID restrictions when ready, leaders say

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“I have always advocated erring on the side of caution when it comes to measures for First Nations to protect our most vulnerable people, especially our elders, our knowledge keepers,” says RoseAnne Archibald.

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations warns First Nations communities to do what is best for them as provinces move forward in lifting restrictive measures to control the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a similar statement RoseAnne Archibald made to Ontario First Nations as Regional Chief when COVID-19 hit in March 2020.

“Essentially, I was recommending stronger measures for First Nations given that we have so many underlying conditions and social determinants of health and living conditions, and some communities do not have adequate drinking water . I have always advocated erring on the side of caution when it comes to measures for First Nations to protect our most vulnerable people, especially our elders, our knowledge keepers,” said Archibald.

Early in the pandemic, Archibald recommended that First Nations communities in Ontario go into lockdown.

Containment measures, including erecting barriers, maintaining roadblocks, closing schools, limiting the number of social gatherings, and enforcing curfews, have been used by First Nations in the whole country to stop the spread of the virus. First Nations were successful in their efforts in the first wave.

However, as the virus transitioned to different variants, including Delta and now the widespread Omicron, First Nations communities were hit hard.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Derek Fox urges First Nations to remain vigilant and urges the Ontario government to accept the decisions made by NAN communities.

“Although the numbers may be down in some parts of the province, we continue (to) see extremely high numbers of COVID-19 in our country. This virus and its variants remain a serious threat to our people and communities, with some experiencing their highest numbers since the pandemic began,” Fox said in a press release.

He said while the data may support Ontario’s decision to lift restrictions in parts of the province, that did not include the north.

“Strict protocols have been adopted in many of our communities and will remain in effect at the discretion of local leaders. Our communities are self-governing and their decisions about pandemic restrictions do not have to be made in agreement with the province. Decisions made by our leaders are final and must be respected by all involved,” Fox said.

Currently, 651 active cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 25 NAN communities. As cases rise in the region, five NAN communities are now in a state of emergency and have suspended non-essential and inter-community travel.

In late 2020, vaccines began rolling out, but vaccine hesitancy among First Nations made initial uptake low. There was also a shortage of personnel to deliver the vaccines and a shortage of facilities in which to do the work.

Now, according to the latest figures from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), the vaccination rate has increased.

As of February 15, 2022, more than 86% of people aged 12 and older in First Nations, Inuit and Territorial communities had received a second dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, and 23% had received a second dose. third or an encore. shoot. More than 45% of children aged 5 to 11 received at least one dose.

ISC reports that as of February 16, there were 3,762 active cases of COVID-19 in First Nations communities.

“I think having vaccines puts us in a different place than we were at the start of the pandemic. At the same time, I think we still need to be a bit more careful with the rest of society and figure out our own opening plans,” Archibald said.

ISC’s Operation REMOTE IMMUNITY 3.0, approved November 10, 2021, deployed Canadian Rangers support to provincial immunization programs in remote communities across Ontario. The deadline for providing this support, at this time, is March 2, approved for Kashechewan First Nation and Attawapiskat First Nation.

The military also provided support to First Nations in Quebec and Manitoba.

“It really depends on vaccination rates. If you have a community that has a very high vaccination rate then COVID can come in there and certainly be less harmful and we’ve seen that in many cases where vaccinated people have…milder symptoms…and they don’t don’t end up in the hospital,” Archibald said.

Archibald was selected by the Toronto Star last December as one of the 20 people “who have taken on the biggest job of the pandemic and helped Ontario get vaccinated.”

In December 2020, Archibald, then Regional Chief for Ontario, was appointed to the provincial nine-member COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force. She was one of three people of color on the task force.

Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Windspeaker.com. The LJI program is funded by the Government of Canada.