National chief calls COVID 19 outbreak in Saskatchewan alarming

REGINA — The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says an outbreak of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan’s far north is alarming.

Perry Bellegarde notes there’s been a steady rise in cases mainly from in and around the Dene community of La Loche, 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

He says the English River First Nation’s territory is also in the area and it too has reported cases of COVID-19.

Bellegarde says he’s hearing that local leadership needs to be more involved in decision-making and that some northerners haven’t been allowed to travel south to get groceries _ an issue because of a lack of food stores around La Loche.

Saskatchewan health officials say more staff have been sent to the area to help track the spread of the novel coronavirus by testing and screening door to door.

Right now, most of Saskatchewan’s active cases are in its far north, where restrictions on non-essential travel are being enforced at checkpoints.

“We’ve said that from Day 1, when this first started hitting, that First Nations communities, First Nations territories, our people are going to be vulnerable because of the overcrowded conditions our people live in,” Bellegarde said from Ottawa in a phone interview.

“We don’t have access to hospitals in the far north. They are community wellness centres.”

Bellegarde also said his first reaction was “too much, too fast, too quick” when he heard plans for the province to start easing restrictions put in place over COVID-19.

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