‘Quite a bit of a panic’ in Pauingassi First Nation after potential COVID-19 variant cases

Community leaders and business owners in Pauingassi First Nation are acting fast to keep residents safe after possible cases of the B.1.1.7. coronavirus variant, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom, have likely been found in the remote community.

Joel McKay, owner of D.O.J.O. Store, which is one of two businesses selling essentials in Pauingassi, is no longer offering curbside pickup. He said he decided to move to a delivery-only model as a precaution after hearing of the new variants possibly spreading in the area.

“My idea is to stop curbside so people more or less stay home,” McKay said. “They don’t have an exact reason to leave their homes.”

On Saturday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said seven probable cases of the U.K. COVID-19 variant have been identified in the First Nation community of about 500 people.

Read more: Coronavirus: 7 probable cases of U.K. variant on Manitoba First Nation

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The samples were screened at Manitoba’s Cadham provincial laboratory and have been sent to the National Microbiology Lab for confirmation.

“It’s actually caused quite a bit of a panic,” McKay said.

The Canadian Armed Forces had already arrived in the community last weekend to help with a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Pauingassi has been under a strict lockdown since Feb. 2, with residents required to stay at home except for essential purposes.

“Whatever little things there were to do up here, there’s now absolutely nothing,” McKay said.

Read more: Variant from U.K. could ‘threaten vaccination’ and ‘sweep the world’: expert

Dr. Marcia Anderson, the lead for the First Nation Pandemic Response Coordination Team, said officials are closely monitoring the possible new variant cases.

“Aggressive public health actions targeted at identifying any further contacts to these cases and ensuring they are tested and are isolating according to public health requirements will help contain the spread of this possible Variant of Concern,” Anderson said in a news release.

Manitoba’s first confirmed case of the variant was found in Winnipeg. The case was related to international travel, officials announced last week.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Restaurants, gyms open under loosened health orders, UK variant in Manitoba

While it may seem more likely to see more variants of concern in urban centres, Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr said Pauingassi’s suspected cases show how no community is fully protected.

“You just need one person, really, going in or out,” Carr said

Despite being a remote area, Carr, who spent much of the last 25 years working with First Nations communities, noted how common it is for residents to leave for medical and other essential reasons.

“There will always be a need for community members to come in and out and also for service providers, whether it be health, education or food supplies to come in,” she said.

The COVID-19 variant first found in the U.K. is believed to be more contagious and has made its way to all 10 provinces in Canada, officials announced Saturday.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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