WINNIPEG -- With the number of COVID-19 cases rising in the province, First Nations leaders are urging the government to reintroduce travel restrictions to northern Manitoba.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas released a joint statement Sunday, calling for the Order Prohibiting Travel to Northern Manitoba under the Public Health Act to be re-imposed.

“During the closure, travel was limited to essential workers and the province saw limited COVID cases in the north and zero First Nations cases on reserve,” reads the statement.

Last April the province barred travel north of the 53rd parallel, with the exception of essential workers, to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Indigenous leaders had warned COVID-19 could have a devastating impact on northern communities without the health care resources to deal with an outbreak.

The order was lifted in June as part of Manitoba’s reopening plan.

“The call to reinstate the northern travel order is a proactive measure by First Nations leadership to reduce and minimize risk the spread of COVID-19 as access to primary health care is not comparable to our neighbours in the south,” said Grand Chief Settee.

“I believe we can work in a proactive way that will be of mutual benefit to our First Nations and all Manitobans,” added AMC Grand Chief Dumas.

The statement was issued the same day a new COVID-19 case was identified in the Northern Health Region. It was linked to a case in the Prairie Mountain Health Region, where new restrictions are set to come into effect Monday. The province elevated the area to Code orange, as part of its new colour coded response system.

During a news conference Sunday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the new case identified in the Northern Health Region is not on a First Nation.

Roussin said provincial officials have met with the Grand Chiefs to discuss their concerns and are open to the idea of reinstating the ban.

“These types of measures have never been off the table,” said Roussin. “Our response system that we have in place allows us to look at things like that.”