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Quebec couple's COVID-19 escape to Old Crow, Yukon, short-lived, says chief

OLD CROW, Yukon — Indigenous communities in the Far North should not be considered safe places for people to escape the novel coronavirus pandemic, says a First Nation chief in Yukon.

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm said Tuesday a couple from Quebec arrived in Old Crow on Friday to flee the pandemic but were told there was no room in town and they should leave.

Old Crow is located about 125 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. The community has about 250 residents, Tizya-Tramm said.

The chief said he was called when local airport officials at the fly-in only community were told by the man and woman that they drove across Canada and flew to Old Crow from Whitehorse seeking an isolated community to hide from COVID-19.

"They had nowhere to stay and didn't really know what they were doing in the community besides just coming here," Tizya-Tramm said in an interview. "He had informed me that they sold everything that they owned in Quebec and drove across Canada and grabbed the first flight into the community."

He said the couple, who he believed were in their late 20s or early 30s, appeared unprepared for life in Old Crow.

"He got off the plane in sweat pants, a jacket and a hat," said Tizya-Tramm. "He didn't have even mitts on. It's minus 30 here today."

Tizya-Tramm said he spoke to the couple by telephone after consulting with airport officials.

"He told me he figured that Old Crow ... is the safest place to weather the COVID storm," he said. "I informed him there's no housing available. We don't even have enough housing for our own members and we are scaling down all construction projects."

Tizya-Tramm said the man, whom he did not identify, expressed a fear of the pandemic that was "palpable." He said the community is not prepared to accommodate those who could possibly spread the virus among its residents.

"What I informed them is they are actually putting themselves and our community in danger because we do not have a doctor in the community and one-fifth of our community are elders with most having underlying medical issues," Tizya-Tramm said.

The couple were taken to a local hotel and told to stay inside their room until they left on a flight on Sunday for Whitehorse where they were met by government health officials, he said.

— By Dirk Meissner in Victoria.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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