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COVID-19 has arrived for the first time in an Inuit community along Labrador’s north coast, and a local leader says it appears to have caught the regional health authority off guard.

Joe Dicker is the AngajukKak, or mayor, of the local community government in the town of Nain, where 10 presumptive cases have been identified by health-care workers. It’s the first time COVID-19 has made its way to Nain, or in any of the five fly-in Inuit communities in the Nunatsiavut region, along Labrador’s northern coast, officials said.

The presumptive cases prompted a scramble for testing, and there weren’t enough supplies on hand to meet demand, Dicker said.

“I think that Labrador-Grenfell Health should have been ready,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just not good enough.”

Nain is Nunatsiavut’s northernmost community and, with a population of about 1,100 people, its most populous. The 10 presumptive cases announced earlier this week by the Nunatsiavut Government were detected through rapid tests and will need to be confirmed by PCR testing.

The new cases in Labrador’s north came as the province was hunkering down under heightened public health restrictions in an effort to beat back the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

On Thursday, officials reported 349 new cases in the province, breaking Wednesday’s daily infection record of 312. There were 1,428 active reported infections in Newfoundland and Labrador – more than three times the highest active case count reached during the Delta variant outbreak in February that sidelined the provincial election.

Sixty-six of Thursday’s new cases were in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region, a news release said.

During a briefing in St. John’s Wednesday, Health Minister John Haggie acknowledged the number of both rapid tests and polymerase chain reaction tests in Nain got “very low” this week. About 240 more rapid testing kits had been sent to the community and about 10,000 PCR testing kits were en route to the central Labrador town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, to be distributed across the region, Haggie added.

When asked how communities like Nain ran low on tests, he said his department does not have a “crystal ball” and that the surge in demand was greater than predicted.

Dicker said that like other Nunatsiavut communities, Nain is particularly vulnerable, noting that persistent housing shortages lead to overcrowding, making it difficult for people to isolate. Still, everyone is doing their best to stay safe and to keep one another safe, he said. Some businesses and services in the town have temporarily shut down, and the streets are largely empty, he added.

“It’s a feeling of hopelessness, but at the same time, it’s hopeful,” he said. “Nain is strong, as always, and we will get through this.”

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