NDP MP Niki Ashton is joining calls for military support for First Nations in Manitoba as they deal with an upswing of COVID-19 cases in their communities.
First Nations including Manto Sipi Cree Nation say they need the support now, and Ashton, MP for Keewatinook-Aski, said chiefs she’s talking to are overwhelmed by how many sick people — including children — they have in their communities and that support workers who are themselves getting sick.
“Lives are on the line, we need the federal government and the military to step in and support First Nations that are calling for help now,” Ashton said in an interview.
The northern Manitoba MP said she has reached out to both Ministers of Indigenous Services and Defence for military support but no commitment has been made to send in the reinforcements she says the First Nations need.
Ashton said she’s concerned about northern and isolated communities because she’s heard from chiefs that the numbers of COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise higher than many have seen so far.
At least 10 First Nations in Manitoba are in full or partial lockdown, as they have been in previous waves of the pandemic.
Chief Marcel Moody of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation previously said he’s frustrated because they are trying everything they can to contain the virus, but even with strict lockdowns, the virus is getting in and spreading quickly in his community.
Moody and other chiefs also said workers in their communities are getting sick, but there aren’t always others to replace them.
Ashton agrees, and said the lack of pre-existing capacity and the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant means that front-line workers providing essential services are also getting sick or off isolating.
“There’s nobody to replace them so this is not the same as, frankly, outbreaks in other places which must also be taken seriously — this could be far worse,” added Ashton.
Ashton said Canada’s military support needs to support First Nation’s efforts now to contain COVID-19 and Omicron before it does get worse.
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