WINNIPEG -- First Nations in northern Manitoba are calling for the Manitoba Hydro Keeyask Generating Station to shut down in order to avoid the outbreak of COVID-19 from reaching their communities.

Manitoba Hydro confirmed on Wednesday that five people at the Keeyask Generating Station have been referred for "further examination" as a precautionary measure against COVID-19. There are currently 1,300 people working at the station.

Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said each of the five people were immediately isolated in a holding room inside a vacated dorm that had been reserved for this situation. The individuals were then flown separately in isolation for further evaluation in their home cities.

"Whether these individuals receive a COVID test will be up to medical staff in their home cities," Owen said in a written statement. "To be clear, this should not be construed as even a presumptive diagnosis of COVID-19. There have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases at site."

Manitoba Hydro said it has been taking steps over the past three weeks to increase the cleaning and disinfecting of the entire camp facility. As well, all intramural activities in the gymnasium have been cancelled and the theatre has been closed.

Owen said any employee returning from international travel since March 12 must isolate themselves for 14 days and show no symptoms of illness before they can return to work.


But for Nathan Neckoway, a councillor in the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, these precautions at the station are not enough.

Neckoway said the station poses a risk, not just to its employees, but to the surrounding First Nations.

"They are not shutting the construction down," Neckoway told CTV News, who estimated about 300 members from surrounding First Nations work at the Hydro station. "It's a risk factor because you have so many people working with a worldwide pandemic coming and being here in Canada – that's going to maybe bring that virus into our area."

The councillor said the Tataskweyak Cree Nation is following in the steps of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs by declaring a state of emergency within their community. Neckoway said they will be restricting access to the reserve for non-members.

On Wednesday, Nikki Ashton, the NDP Churchill Keewatinook-Aski MP, joined the calls for the station to shut down.

"We need immediate action to protect workers even if it requires shutting down the Keeyask construction site as First Nations are saying," Ashton said in a news release. “There are 1,300 workers on site. Their health should be a top priority and we must ensure that the virus does not spread beyond the camp into Northern communities."

Ashton said the federal government and the province should work with employers in northern communities to make sure people have financial supports in the weeks to come.

Neckoway said the leadership in the northern communities, including the Frist Nations of York Factory, War Lake and Fox Lake, have been meeting with the province and Manitoba Hydro over conference calls to discuss their concerns.