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More than 100 contract COVID-19 in Shamattawa, Man., renewing calls for military aid

The chief of Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba is renewing calls for military aid in his community as the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to grow. 

As of Thursday afternoon, 106 people had contracted the illness, according to Niki Ashton, the NDP Member of Parliament for Churchill Keewatinook Aski.

“This is an unfolding nightmare,” she told question period on Thursday. 

Shamattawa First Nation is a fly-in community located about 745 kilometres north of Winnipeg, northeast of Thompson, Man. About 1,300 people live on the First Nation, according to Chief Eric Redhead. 

Ashton said the test positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive — is at 50 per cent in Shamattawa. She reiterated calls on Thursday to send in more help. 

Redhead has been calling for military assistance this entire week. The number of cases in his community keeps growing, despite efforts such as imposing a curfew, a mask mandate, closing the band office and school, and urging people to stay home.

Nearly 40 people have now been moved out of the community so they can properly self-isolate. The federal government has sent in a rapid response team — with an isolation tent and a rapid testing machine.

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has also been calling for the help. But says the location makes it a challenge.

“Unfortunately Shamattawa is in quite a unique situation, remote and isolated and the outbreak is quite severe,” he said. 

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Thursday that the military is an option — but stopped short of committing that help during question period.

“We’ll remain in active communication and provide additional support — including [the Canadian Armed Forces] as needed,” he said. 

Miller said he had planned to talk with Chief Redhead on Thursday.

The province said it is monitoring the situation as well, although a spokesperson said it had not yet been asked to provide any specific or unique support to Shamattawa First Nation. 

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