Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says Indigenous communities have faced an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Miller says a total of 673 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in First Nations communities, and approximately 130 of them are currently active cases.
He adds that indigenous communities managed to cope with the first wave of COVID-19 with measures that limited the spread of the virus.
These measures included closing off communities to outsiders and imposing local restrictions on gatherings. It was also ensured that people followed basic health and hygiene protocols.
The reopening of schools, businesses and places where physical distancing is not possible are among the factors explaining the increase.
Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says Indigenous communities are among the most vulnerable populations in Canada and need more help to keep them safe.
“First Nations face unique realities that require unique approaches,” said Mr. Bellegarde. “Those who live in poverty or in rural areas need more support and resources, including social and health support for families. “
Dr. Evan Adams, deputy chief medical officer of Indigenous Services Canada, said the biggest concern was making sure the more than 650 Indigenous communities are prepared for possible COVID-19 outbreaks.
His home community on Vancouver Island, the Tla’amin Nation, has been battling an outbreak of more than 30 cases.
“It’s scary for them and it’s scary for us,” he said. “We want them to be prepared and not to be afraid. “
Miller said the federal government provided a total of $ 2.2 billion to Indigenous communities. “It was deployed according to a formula based on the well-being of the population and the community. “
He noted that the government has made funding programs flexible so that Indigenous communities have many options on how to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks.
Mr. Miller added that a “hidden epidemic” of mental health problems is also hitting Indigenous peoples.
“We are deploying $ 82.5 million to fight the epidemic of mental health issues, which has actually claimed more Indigenous lives than COVID during the same time period. “
These challenges add to long-standing issues that Indigenous peoples have faced, including overcrowding, underfunding, lack of infrastructure, and limited access to clean water in some communities.
“All of these other things are exacerbated by COVID, but are still on people’s minds,” Miller said.
He said Canadians need to recognize that Indigenous communities were leaving with a socio-economic gap that made them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Dr Adams said Indigenous communities are concerned about having enough personal protective equipment and whether they will have access to enough medical personnel during the second wave of the pandemic across Canada.
He added that many Indigenous people may take advantage of the gathering and hunting season to stay outside, especially those who live in remote and isolated communities.