Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller speaks with the media in the Foyer of the House of Commons before Question Period Tuesday March 10, 2020 in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Concerns raised over COVID-19 outbreak plans for Indigenous communities

Plans for possible outbreaks in remote, vulnerable Indigenous communities getting a failing grade

Ottawa’s plans to respond to possible COVID-19 outbreaks in remote, fly-in and already vulnerable Indigenous communities are getting a failing grade from Opposition politicians who say they display a troubling misunderstanding of the needs and conditions in these areas.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told a legislative committee Thursday that Ottawa is preparing to help First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities if the coronavirus does begin to spread through a “surge capacity response” that would allow governments to scale up quickly as needed.

ALSO READ: B.C. First Nation chief urges caution in rural areas amid COVID-19

Miller says many remote Indigenous communities are at greater risk when it comes to COVID-19, due to overcrowded housing, food insecurity and poverty linked to poor health outcomes.

Many Indigenous communities also do not have local doctors or hospitals and must be flown to urban centres to be treated for serious conditions, which makes them additionally vulnerable.

He also says the federal government is ready to pay what it costs to bring in additional health workers and give Indigenous communities bottled water, protective equipment and hand sanitizer to help with prevention, and set up isolation tents if a lack of housing prevents self-isolating at home.

ALSO READ: Indigenous leaders to meet with premiers, Trudeau on child welfare, UNDRIP

NDP MP Niki Ashton says she believes this response is not taking First Nations realities seriously, stressing that treating sick people in Canada’s North in tents is not realistic.

Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson, who represents Nunavut, also scoffed at the idea of tents in the North at this time of year.

He also believes the $100 million that Ottawa has earmarked for COVID-19 response for First Nations and Inuit communities will not be enough.

So far, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the North.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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