A spokesperson for the Canadian military’s Joint Task Force Central says there are now 65 residents from the northern Ontario community in isolation, down from numbers earlier this week that had more than half of residents isolating.
“The support effort has thus shifted from emergency response to recovery support,” said Maj. Sonia Dumouchel Connock, a spokesperson for the Canadian Forces’ Ontario regional task force.
“While the role of the CAF is to assist during the emergency response phase when government resources are overwhelmed and the current situation does not indicate that additional CAF resources are required, support requirements continue to be assessed on a daily basis.”
Connock said the military will continue working with the community and assess whether circumstances change. For now though, she said the feedback so far has been positive.
“In our communications with the community, leaders have told us they are happy with the support they are receiving from the CAF,” she added in an email.
COVID-19: Army to help virus-stricken Bearskin Lake First Nation
Joint Task Force Central has not, at this time, received any other requests for assistance from other First Nations facing COVID-19 outbreaks, Connock noted.
The community, located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, declared a state of emergency on Dec. 28, then asked for military help on Jan. 3.
In previous comments, community leaders said they asked for 30 to 40 military personnel.
The provincial government forwarded the request to the federal government last Thursday and while the province spelled out the kind of help required, the province did not specify the number of military personnel required.
Ottawa, in response, activated six Canadian Rangers, which community members have described as “disappointing.”
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu has said the government is also paying the costs to deploy dozens of volunteers and health-care workers from nearby communities, at a cost of roughly $1.2 million so far.
NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the adjacent riding of Timmins—James Bay, said on Tuesday the decision not to offer the Canadian Forces members requested by the community demonstrates the government’s “indifference” to the health of Indigenous Canadians.
“I think what this government is doing here is sending a message not just to Bearskin Lake, but to all the other First Nation communities who are facing Omicron to say, ‘Don’t bother calling. You’re on your own,’” Angus told Global News on Tuesday.
He pointed specifically to a Twitter post by Defence Minister Anita Anand showing the Canadian Forces members who have been deployed to help out in COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Quebec amid rising cases of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
“You’re telling the people of Bearskin Lake: ‘Sorry — too bad, so sad, you get nothing.’”
More than half of the remote community’s 400 residents have been infected with COVID-19 in recent weeks, with Bearskin Lake Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin earlier this month describing the strain on members as “almost at a breaking point.”
COVID-19: Bearskin Lake leader says feds had ‘dismissive attitude’ following pleas for assistance
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