A federal member of parliament representing northern Manitoba is calling for the military to be sent in to help First Nations with surging COVID-19 case numbers.
Niki Ashton, the NDP MP for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, put out a call on Friday asking for more support from the federal government.
“We know numbers are on the rise here in northern Manitoba and we know from early on in this pandemic that First Nations are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, both in terms of contracting it and more severe outcome when people get sick,” Ashton told CTV News in an interview on Sunday.
“What I’m hearing from many communities is that they are feeling overwhelmed.”
Ashton said communities are taking many proactive measures but are still struggling to curb the spread of the virus.
“There are many young children who cannot get the vaccine, so there is real concern about people getting sick, it spreading very quickly and it being very serious for those that can’t get vaccinated, the little ones and people that have pre-existing conditions.”
With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, many rural First Nations have implemented strict lockdowns.
Ashton said while resources like PPE and more test kits are needed, the main thing lacking in the communities are people able to work.
“Groceries need to be taken to homes. Medication needs to be taken to homes. People need to be checked on. There still needs to be security,” she said. “For these lockdowns to be able to continue and people to be safe and self-isolate, there needs to be boots on the ground that are running these services.”
According to Ashton, there are no backups in the rural communities, and once the frontline falls ill, it’s extremely difficult.
Ashton used the example of Gods River – Manto Sipi Cree Nation. She said they are battling high cases in the community and are asking for more support.
“They want to see military support like they had earlier in the pandemic with actually fewer cases.”
As per the province’s most recent data, the Northern Health Region has 14,062.42 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, more than double the rate in Winnipeg, which is 6,703.43 cases per 100,000 people.
Aston said she’d like to see the “potentially life-saving” support be given before the situation gets too extreme.
She said she has reached out to both the federal Indigenous Services and Defense Ministers.
In an email a federal spokesperson told CTV News:
“Since January 2020, we have approved 155 requests for federal assistance, including 55 in First Nations communities. We are in regular contact with the provinces and territories as they assess their needs in response to COVID-19 outbreaks, and we are prepared to support them when federal support is requested. Currently, we have not received any new requests from the province for communities in Northern Manitoba, but we are engaged with officials from across government, including Indigenous Services Canada, to monitor evolving needs.”
The spokesperson said a province or territory needs to request federal assistance (RFA) to formally get support from the federal government in their emergency response efforts.
They went on to say there is a well-established process in place for managing RFAs, through the Government Operations Centre.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Indigenous Services said, “As Omicron presents new challenges during an already difficult time, Indigenous Services Canada remains in direct communication with First Nations for any requests of support: for rapid tests, PPE, health human resources, coordination with provincial partners, and others.”
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