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The Nunavut community of Arviat has declared a state of emergency over rising COVID-19 case numbers.

There were 27 active cases Wednesday in the hamlet of about 2,800 people, which lies on the western coast of Hudson Bay.

Arviat was previously the centre of Nunavut’s largest COVID-19 outbreak with 307 of the territory’s 351 total infections.

The community is now under a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with four additional bylaw officers hired for enforcement. The emergency order states officers are to patrol 24 hours a day.

Hunters and people heading to and from work are excluded from the curfew. All stores and businesses must close during those hours, although essential services such as emergency maintenance and oil delivery can continue.

The order also states that only one person per household can shop in retail stores at a time.

Which COVID-19 ‘variants of concern’ are in Canada? Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Lambda explained

COVID-19 is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2, and as it spread around the world, it mutated into new forms that are more quickly and easily transmitted through small water droplets in the air. Canadian health officials are most worried about variants that can slip past human immune systems because of a different shape in the spiky protein that latches onto our cells. The bigger fear is that future mutations could be vaccine-resistant, which would make it necessary to tweak existing drugs or develop a new “multivalent” vaccine that works against many types, which could take months or years.

Not all variants are considered equal threats: Only those proven to be more contagious or resistant to physical-distancing measures are considered by the World Health Organization to be “variants of concern.” Five of these been found in Canada so far. The WHO refers to them by a sequence of letters and numbers known as Pango nomenclature, but in May of 2021, it also assigned them Greek letters that experts felt would be easier to remember.

ALPHA (B.1.1.7)

  • Country of origin: Britain
  • Traits: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are still mostly effective against it, studies suggest, but for full protection, the booster is essential: With only a first dose, the effectiveness is only about 66 per cent.
  • Spread in Canada: First detected in Ontario’s Durham Region in December. It is now Canada’s most common variant type. Every province has had at least one case; Ontario, Quebec and the western provinces have had thousands.

BETA (B.1.351)

  • Country of origin: South Africa
  • Traits: Some vaccines (including Pfizer’s and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s) appear to be less effective but researchers are still trying to learn more and make sure future versions of their drugs can be modified to fight it.
  • Spread in Canada: First case recorded in Mississauga in February. All but a few provinces have had at least one case, but nowhere near as many as B.1.1.7.

GAMMA (P.1)

  • Country of origin: Brazil
  • Traits: Potentially able to reinfect people who’ve recovered from COVID-19.
  • Spread in Canada: B.C. has had hundreds of cases, the largest known concentration of P.1 outside Brazil. More outbreaks have been detected in Ontario and the Prairies.

DELTA (B.1.617 AND B.1.617.2)

  • Country of origin: India
  • Traits: Spreads more easily. Single-dosed people are less protected against it than those with both vaccine doses.
  • Spread in Canada: All but a few provinces have recorded cases, but B.C.’s total has been the largest so far.

LAMBDA (C.37)

  • Country of origin: Peru
  • Traits: Spreads more easily. Health officials had been monitoring it since last August, but the WHO only designated it a variant of concern in June of 2021.
  • Spread in Canada: A handful of travel-related cases were first detected in early July.

If I’m sick, how do I know whether I have a variant?

Health officials need to genetically sequence test samples to see whether it’s the regular virus or a variant, and not everyone’s sample will get screened. It’s safe to assume that, whatever the official variant tallies are in your province, the real numbers are higher. But for your purposes, it doesn’t matter whether you contract a variant or not: Act as though you’re highly contagious, and that you have been since before your symptoms appeared (remember, COVID-19 can be spread asymptomatically). Self-isolate for two weeks. If you have the COVID Alert app, use it to report your test result so others who may have been exposed to you will know to take precautions.

Need more answers? Email audience@globeandmail.com

Arviat Mayor Joe Savikataaq Jr. said the decision to impose a curfew was not an easy one and was made after community members asked for it.

He said the point of the curfew is to stop gatherings and bring COVID-19 case numbers back down.

“The reason we did this was to finally put it aside and turn the page and start over again. Enough is enough,” he said.

“We need to get our life back. It’s been way too long.”

Savikataaq Jr. also said people who break the curfew will be reported to the RCMP and could face fines, although an amount has yet to be determined.

“Fines will be the last resort,” he said.

The community, which is currently the only place in Nunavut with active cases, has been under a strict lockdown for 104 days, since early November. Travel has remained restricted and all schools and non-essential businesses have been closed.

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic took place in Arviat last month and a clinic for the second required dose is taking place this month.

Savikataaq Jr. said overcrowded housing in the community has been “a perfect breeding ground for COVID.”

“When one person gets it in a family, for the 10 or 15 people who live in a two-bedroom, the chances of them getting it too are quite high,” he said.

“Cases have been slowly rising. We want to put a stop to that. Everyone has been trying. But due to lack of housing, that’s very hard to do.”

He said he hopes Nunavut residents won’t judge people in Arviat because of its COVID-19 cases.

“No one really knows what we’re going through, what circumstances we have to face. We are doing our best. We are trying.”

Arviat’s council will decide on Monday whether the state of emergency will be renewed.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says results from COVID-19 vaccinations so far are encouraging enough that she thinks the need for massive lockdowns could be over before the end of the summer. But Tam says some of the more personal measures, like wearing masks and limiting close contact outside our households, may be with us longer.

The Canadian Press

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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