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OTTAWA — The chief of Manitoba’s largest First Nation says officials at its federally-run hospital are alarmed by a diminishing supply equipment to screen for COVID-19.

"They're running short and, obviously, a lot of people are panicking," Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson told the Free Press.

Percy E. Moore Hospital sits on the Peguis reserve, and is administered by the federal Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) department. It serves the 3,600 residents of Peguis (220 kilometres north of Winnipeg), as well as Interlake First Nations communities such as Kinonjeoshtegon and Fisher River.

On Monday, officials who work at the hospital told ISC they’re running short on masks, gloves and testing kits. Before the call, Hudson said officials had written to Ottawa about diminishing supplies, as more residents present with flu-like symptoms.

No cases have been reported in any Interlake reserves. "We'd like to keep it that way, but without the proper testing, we don't know," Hudson said.

On the weekend, two northern chiefs told the Free Press they feel Ottawa isn’t doing enough to make sure remote reserves have supplies, and a plan to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak.

Hudson said the coronavirus outbreak shows the shortfalls in a system run by Ottawa. The reserve hospital has never had a ventilator, he said, although it can provide oxygen to patients on a temporary basis.

"It’s been a delayed response; it’s always been like that," the chief said. "Given the severity of this, and the panic throughout society, it's taken some time for us to get responses."

ISC could not respond by deadline Monday about the Percy E. Moore Hospital.

NDP MP Niki Ashton said Ottawa needs to step up its efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, given how many reserve residents are immunocompromised.

"First Nations need to be heard, urgently," Ashton said, noting crowded homes and unclean water make it hard to follow public health instructions. "These are communities that are already under-resourced. They know what they need and the federal government is not listening or acting on that."

Canada’s chief public health officer said Monday ISC medical and technical officials are part of the briefings with provincial authorities. Dr. Theresa Tam said Indigenous communities should have guidance on how to do social distancing, given they are populated much differently from towns and cities.

"That’s the kind of work that’s underway right now, and we need to accelerate it," Tam told the Free Press.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca