WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) is thanking the province for new public health orders restricting travel in Northern Manitoba.

“This is an extremely important measure to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus to First Nations in Northern Manitoba,” said Grand Chief Garrison Settee in a news release, thanking Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer.

“We currently have no cases of COVID-19 in our MKO First Nations and our leaders are doing everything within their power to prevent the introduction of this virus in our communities.”

The new public health orders go into effect Friday, April 17 and continue until Friday, May 1. They prohibit travel to northern Manitoba with the following exceptions:

  • Residents of northern and remote communities can still travel within northern Manitoba;
  • The delivery of goods and services can continue; and
  • Residents who travel to the north for work, medical treatment or for child-custody agreements.

“Northern First Nations are particularly vulnerable to this virus as we lack health care infrastructure, have understaffed nursing stations, and lack housing that would better enable us to implement safety measures,” said Settee.

“More than two weeks ago the Chief and Council of the Misipawistik Cree Nation created a check stop on highway 6, which runs through their First Nation. Along with other Northern First Nations, they called for the closure of non-essential travel to Northern Manitoba due to their clear understanding that we need to take as many measures as we can to stop this virus from spreading during this unprecedented situation.”

As of April 14, Indigenous Services Canada said 629 COVID-19 tests have been performed on people in Manitoba’s First Nations, with all coming back negative.

The MKO said it’s working closely with First Nations to try and prevent the virus from reaching MKO citizens, and to prepare to respond if it does come to northern First Nations.