OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are steering away from the Stefanson government’s emphasis on personal responsibility, as COVID-19 cases among First Nations in just one week amount to one-10th of those logged since the pandemic started in Manitoba.

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are steering away from the Stefanson government’s emphasis on personal responsibility, as COVID-19 cases among First Nations in just one week amount to one-10th of those logged since the pandemic started in Manitoba.

“It think it’s really important that we continue to protect each other from contracting COVID-19,” Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said Thursday, while pledging to clear red tape around requesting federal help, at the urging of Manitoba chiefs.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs reported Thursday a staggering 2,504 new COVID-19 infections among First Nations in just a week, including probable infections detected with rapid tests.

That amounts to one-10th of all First Nations cases of COVID-19 that have been registered since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“I don’t want these numbers just to become numbers; they actually mean things — they’re actually quite shocking,” AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said in a virtual briefing.

More than 50 of the 63 reserves located in Manitoba had active COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including 12 with Omicron variant cases that were sent for genetic sequencing 10 days prior, according to Ongomiizwin Health Services.

The University of Manitoba-based group is assembling teams of medical students to fly into exhausted communities and help with things such as contact tracing, vaccination and rapid tests.

Hajdu said the federally funded project should help alleviate the pressure communities face, as Ottawa reports strained military and Red Cross teams.

“Each request is done through the lens of assessing the needs of the community, the existing supports in place, and what kind of skill set the Canadian Armed Forces are being asked to provide,” Hajdu said Thursday, in response to questions from the Free Press.

The minister said she met virtually Monday with Manitoba chiefs, many of whom said they are staring down bureaucracy in requesting federal aide.

“They’re asking that we reduce as much as we can any cumbersome request processes. My officials heard the calls for this efficiency and we’re working on ways we can streamlines processes every further.”

NDP MP Niki Ashton (Churchill—Keewatinook Aski) has asked the Liberals to bolster supports for the dozen Manitoba communities entering lockdowns; Hajdu said bands can still tap existing funding for COVID-19 prevention.

On Wednesday, Manitoba officials said everyone in the province should expect being exposed to COVID-19 in the coming weeks, and Premier Heather Stefanson said she’s focused on preventing deaths instead of constraining viral spread.

“This virus is running throughout our community and it’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves,” Stefanson had said.

Hajdu wouldn’t say whether she supports that viewpoint, but noted Indigenous communities remain highly vulnerable to COVID-19 despite high vaccine and booster uptake.

“Some people nonetheless become very ill, and from my perspective, we’ve spent a long time doing everything we can to reduce the numbers of people that are getting sick.”

The top doctor for Indigenous Services Canada, which runs medical services on reserves, said preventing COVID-19 exposure is crucial, along with vaccination. Dr. Tom Wong noted the novel coronavirus puts many at high risk of severe outcomes, particularly elders, pregnant women, chemotherapy patients.

“All of those individuals need additional protection.”

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"