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Air Creebec flies again while schools reopen, and specialists return to Eeyou Istchee

BY Ben Powless Sep 11, 2020

As more services across Eeyou Istchee slowly reemerge, Air Creebec has also resumed regular passenger service in late August between Montreal, Val-d’Or, Chibougamou, Chisasibi and in northern Ontario.

Operating out of a private terminal in Dorval, the airline emphasizes that all health precautions are being implemented. Passengers must submit to a health check and fill out a questionnaire. All passengers over two years old are required to wear a mask for the duration of the flight. No meals, snacks or beverages will be served, nor will in-flight magazines be available. All in-service aircraft will be disinfected daily. 

Flights 921 and 922 offer service between Montreal, Val-d’Or and Chisasibi while flights 927 and 928 fly between Montreal, Chibougamau and Chisasibi. In Ontario, a limited flight schedule between Timmins and Moosonee is also available, and to Peawanuck when demand warrants.

“The health and safety of our passengers, clients and employees is Air Creebec’s primary goal and we are not willing to sacrifice this for financial reasons,” Air Creebec President Matthew Happyjack said in a statement.

Happyjack told the Nation that the airline returned to the skies based on requests from community members asking about regular flights. They followed the provincial and Cree deconfinement plans, while also consulting with band chiefs on when to resume service.

Still, Happyjack understands that it will take a while to return to normal. “People will be afraid of flying,” he observed. As demand picks up, the airline aims to expand back to other communities.

To that end, Air Creebec will release a video demonstrating how safety protocols are handled on the plane, from disinfecting to social distancing, so that people feel more comfortable aboard the aircraft.

Since the start of the pandemic, planes have been used for medical transportation. Even then, Air Creebec was forced to lay off about 160 of its 400 employees. While the flights are currently subsidized by the government, that funding ends in October.

“We’re slowly going to bring back flight crews, attendants, mechanics, customer service,” Happyjack said. “But it’s going to take two or three years to return to normal. We’ll do it safely and slowly.” 

The news comes as a Cree Health Board and Social Services of James Bay (CHBJSSJB) memo states that, “All indications are that a second wave of Covid-19 is beginning.” Some parts of Quebec and nationally are seeing infection rates increase, although there have been no new cases in Eeyou Istchee since May.

The memo credits the success that the Cree communities have had in limiting the spread of the virus to people’s commitment to physical distancing and precautionary measures along with forceful leadership in insulating communities from outside infection. 

This has allowed Cree communities to remain in Phase 4. Schools in every community have reopened classes, except for Whapmagoostui, where they will open after Labour Day. The Cree School Board hired 21 more teachers to meet class-size restrictions, as well as more janitors and maintenance staff. 

Parents are asked to bring their children to school if possible, as school-bus seating is limited because of distancing precautions. Parents are also asked to complete a daily health checklist on eeyoueducation.ca, and to keep children home if they present any symptoms.

Public health authorities have developed protocols for case detection and contact tracing in schools in case they become necessary, while also setting up a school support team able to respond to any emergency. The team includes nurses, nurse counselors, and planning, programming and research officers. 

The Cree Health Board will also be working to bring back health specialists into the community, stating that it will be easier to coordinate their travel under strict screening and precautionary measures that are part of their job than to have patients head south. 

To date, 913 tests have been conducted in the communities, with 894 negative results and 9 still pending. As well, 1,077 screening tests have been completed, with 1,070 negative and 7 awaiting results.

While Quebec recently announced a 10-day isolation policy, the CHBSSJB emphasized that this is distinct from the 14-day mandatory isolation order in Eeyou Istchee. Quebec’s isolation order is only given out by doctors to individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19, while the 14-day isolation period in Eeyou Istchee includes extra time during which someone may not have symptoms. 

Those isolation orders apply to anyone who has come into contact with someone who tests positive, anyone who has travelled outside of Quebec, or those who have travelled to Region 6 (Montreal), Region 13 (Laval), Region 14 (Lanaudière), Region 15 (Laurentians) or Region 16 (Montérégie). 

It also applies to anyone who has visited any Hydro-Québec site, mine site (except for Osisko or Stornaway with proper documentation), or forestry camp (apart from the km 105 camp, again with proper documentation). 

There continue to be several no-shows on medical charter flights, while the CHBSSJB has urged those who decide to drive or not travel to inform the health authorities so they can offer their spots to others.

In recent days Quebec has reported more than 100 new cases per day, with around half of those cases being in Montreal. Canada has hovered between 300 and 600 new cases per day in recent weeks. Over 9,000 people in Canada have died due to the virus.

Health Canada announced that it may allow for testing of Covid-19 using home tests, which many doctors and health experts have urged the government to consider. This would allow for generalized screening even among those without symptoms, which the Cree Health Board has been doing. 

In the United States, the total amount of infections is now more than six million, with over 40,000 new cases a day being reported. Over 184,000 people have died in the US alone, with currently more than 1,000 people deaths per day. Across the globe, more than 25 million have been infected, with over 850,000 deaths. 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.