Northern communities worried by Hydro plan to bring workers to site


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The Keeyask generation project is set to welcome more outside workers, stoking fears of a COVID-19 outbreak near remote First Nations communities.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2020 (1135 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Keeyask generation project is set to welcome more outside workers, stoking fears of a COVID-19 outbreak near remote First Nations communities.

“All the measures we’re doing in our community; it seems like it’s all for nothing,” said Chief Doreen Spence of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, 725 kilometres north of Winnipeg. “I don’t like the thought of Manitoba Hydro dictating to us whatever they consider to be safe.”

Keeyask ramped down construction work on March 21, after flying out at least five people who showed symptoms of COVID-19; the Crown corporation did not track whether they were tested. As of Monday, Hydro said 700 employees and contractors have voluntarily stayed on the site, compared with 1,300 a month ago.

MANITOBA HYDRO PHOTO Manitoba Hydro has notified Keeyask workers that a contractor is trying to bring about 10 cooks into the site without quarantining them.

The Keeyask site reopened its gym on April 11, and the cafeteria reopened its dining room April 14 “with seating restrictions,” according to the daily safety notice sent to employees. The bar will soon be reopened “if resources allow.”

Hydro workers and contractors reached out to the Free Press this weekend with concerns over those moves.

The province’s state of emergency only allows for certain businesses to operate, excluding gyms, bars or restaurants, but the Keeyask facilities appear to fall under exemptions for megaprojects. On April 16, the province banned unnecessary travel to northern Manitoba, citing limited health resources.

This past Saturday, Hydro notified Keeyask workers that contractor Sodexo is trying to bring in about 10 cooks without quarantining them, because many cafeteria staff have left. Instead of quarantining those new cooks, Hydro will test their temperature and have them fill out a health survey at the start of shifts during their first two weeks. That would detect symptomatic workers, though people can carry and pass along the coronavirus with no symptoms.

Spence said Hydro didn’t mention these changes in the last weekly call with those communities. She fears Manitobans desperate for a job will lie about their well-being in order to become cooks.

The area’s MP, Niki Ashton, called for the site to be closed a month ago.

“Manitoba’s chief public-health officer recognizes the extreme vulnerability of our region. What Hydro is doing is making a mockery of it,” Ashton said Monday.

The Crown corporation refused an interview request, instead writing that the Northern Regional Health Authority approved of Hydro’s protocols. The NRHA did not answer questions by deadline Monday.

“All Manitoba Health guidelines will be followed to ensure the safety of everyone at Keeyask and the nearby communities,” wrote Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen.

Manitoba Hydro safety update for Keeyask

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