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Most Cree have received their vaccine, but worries about variants grow

BY Ben Powless Feb 26, 2021

As Covid cases continue to steadily decline across here and across Canada, the Cree Health Board (CHB) urges continued caution as new strains of the virus have been detected in the Abitibi and Montreal regions.

The new variants are more infectious, raising fears of a third wave and new lockdowns, but the vaccine is understood to still be effective against them. That’s good news, as more than 72% of the eligible Cree population in Eeyou Istchee have received the first dose of the vaccine. 

Nonetheless, public health officials have opted to maintain restrictions on non-essential inter-community travel until early March, except for residents returning home or transportation of children under 18 to their parents.

The CHB says all cases from the January outbreak have been resolved, with only two active cases remaining in the region. That brought the total number of infected since the start of the pandemic to 117.

“The solidarity and caring that the people of Eeyou Istchee showed one another to help put an end to the recent outbreaks was incredible,” the CHB said in a statement. “Arriving at a checkpoint, answering honestly and accepting the consequences if one is required to self-isolate is the greatest demonstration of love and sacrifice one can make for their people.”

The CHB is preparing to administer the second dose of the vaccine, encouraging those eligible people who haven’t received the first dose to make appointments at clinics. CHB Vice-Chair Christine Petawabano said in a statement that post-secondary students studying outside of Eeyou Istchee would be able to get the vaccine with an appointment when they returned home.

The CHB is developing an attestation of vaccination, as governments and airlines around the world are increasingly demanding proof of inoculation.

All regions of Ontario and Quebec were still considered high-risk, requiring mandatory 14 days of self-isolation, with the exceptions of Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec), Region 17 (Nunavik) and Region 18 (Eeyou Istchee). 

Regions 10, 8 (Abitibi-Témiscamingue) and 2 (Saguenay Lac Saint-Jean) were moved into the provincial Orange Zone, which involves a curfew from 9:30 pm to 5 am, a prohibition on all gatherings, businesses allowed to open allowing one person per household, restaurants open for dining with a maximum of two adults per group, while bars stayed closed. 

The rest of Quebec is still in the Red Zone, with an 8 pm-5 am curfew, a prohibition on all gatherings, and bars and restaurants closed. 

Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou moved back to Phase 2 of deconfinement, allowing for outdoor gatherings of two households, indoor gatherings of the same two households, and offices allowed to stay open. 

The rest of the Cree communities were in Phase 3, allowing for outdoor gatherings of 75 people or 10 households, indoor gatherings of 25 people or three households – including sporting events – and offices allowed to stay open.

In Mistissini, primary and secondary school students continued online learning, and prepared for their return to in-class instruction on February 22. All other communities returned to in-class learning following Scenario B measures.

Laptops were distributed for high school students in Mistissini, Waskaganish, Chisasibi, Nemaska and Ouje-Bougoumou. Eeyoueducation.ca posted resources for students and parents who needed assistance setting up Microsoft Office accounts and applications including Teams and Outlook. 

Sabtuan Adult Services is reviewing a plan for students to return to the Sabtuan Regional Vocational Training Centre in Waswanipi, while all other vocational training programs had resumed. Post-Secondary Student Services is working with the CHB to help students return home during March Break.

Across Quebec, new daily cases fell to their lowest levels since October, while nearly 300,000 doses of the vaccine have now been administered. Nationally, the country saw its lowest levels of new cases since September, as nearly 1.3 million people had received the vaccine.

After concerns about delays to Moderna vaccine deliveries, which are being used across the Cree communities, the federal government announced it will receive 1.3 million doses in March.

The other leading vaccine manufactured by Pfizer was facing delays due to snowstorms affecting large parts of the United States, though the company committed to sending four million vaccine doses by the end of March.

“Months ago, we promised a total of six million doses from all candidates before end of March, that’s exactly what we are going to deliver. The ramp-up phase in April will feature many more millions of doses,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement February 16. 

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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.