Manitoba First Nation enters month-long lockdown after reporting biggest jump in COVID-19 cases

A First Nation near Lake Winnipeg is going into lockdown for a month after recording its highest single-day spike of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Sagkeeng First Nation entered lockdown Wednesday evening after reporting 20 new COVID-19 cases, including 17 variant of concern cases, on Tuesday. There was a record 48 total known active cases in the community Tuesday, according to a COVID-19 bulletin issued by the community.

The First Nation, located just over 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, has 143 residents in isolation. But that amount is expected to “sharply increase” after Tuesday’s case count, the bulletin says.

“We definitely have to contain this,” Chief Derrick Henderson told CBC News.

“We can flatten the curve by people not being mobile in the community.”

The COVID-19 cases in Sagkeeng First Nation have mainly stemmed from community transmission, as many people have been leaving the reservation and going into Winnipeg or nearby communities, said Henderson.

But after 14 months of pandemic restrictions and nice weather finally starting to turn, it’s tough to keep people in line, he added.

On lockdown for a month

As of 8 p.m. CT Wednesday, no one is allowed past the First Nation’s checkpoints without a pass. Ambassadors from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will be staffing the checkpoints too, according to a letter sent to the community.

There will be a designated open day that allows Sagkeeng First Nation residents to travel for essentials, such as groceries. One person per household can be a designated shopper, the letter says.

But visitors and travelling within the community, as well as out-of-province travel, are prohibited under the lockdown. All non-essential businesses will have to close and religious and cultural events will have to be hosted online, the letter says.

Essential businesses have to reduce their staff and work hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Students on the reserve will move to remote learning. Homework packages and student hampers will be delivered, the letter says.

The lockdown will be in place until June 14. At that time, the Sagkeeng leadership will consult with its health officials and the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 pandemic response co-ordination team about next steps, says Chief Derrick Henderson. (CBC)

Anyone attending school off the reserve will be issued education passes that will allow them to pass the checkpoints for education purposes only.

Residents who are considered essential workers in Sagkeeng and anyone who works outside the community will also be issued a pass so they can go to work, the letter adds.

Sagkeeng First Nation residents who have to travel outside the community for a medical appointment will have to provide “medical documentation” to exit and return, the letter says.

Anyone with court documented arrangements for their children or shared custody arrangements will have to make alternative plans for child care during lockdown. Sagkeeng Child and Family Services is pausing all family visits and in-person programming “with exceptional circumstances.”

COVID-19 vaccine clinics are slated to arrive in the community next week and it will coincide with an open day, the bulletin says.

The lockdown will be in place until June 14. At that time, the Sagkeeng leadership will consult with its health officials and the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 pandemic response co-ordination team about next steps, said Henderson.

6:08Sagkeeng First Nation locks down until June

Chief Derrick Henderson describes the COVID situation as serious, and one that requires a serious response. More on the explosion in positive cases. 6:08

The chief expects some level of anxiety from community members over the next month, but if “we all did what we’re supposed to do, I don’t know if we would be in this situation today,” he said.

The First Nations pandemic response team reported 62 new COVID-19 cases linked to First Nations members in the province — 37 on reserve, 25 off reserve — on Wednesday, according to its daily bulletin.

There are now 984 known active cases among First Nations people — 578 on reserve, 406 off reserve — in Manitoba as of Wednesday, the bulletin says.

Two more First Nations people died from COVID-19 Wednesday. One was a man in his 60s from Winnipeg, the other was a woman in her 50s from the Prairie Mountain Health Region.

A total of 181 First Nations people in Manitoba have died from the illness to date, the bulletin says.