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Canadian Rangers in northern Quebec to help locals with COVID-19 fight

MONTREAL — Canadian Forces personnel will be heading to the remote communities of northern Quebec to help the effort against COVID-19. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Friday he was heeding a Quebec government request for military help.
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MONTREAL — Canadian Forces personnel will be heading to the remote communities of northern Quebec to help the effort against COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Friday he was heeding a Quebec government request for military help.

It came from provincial Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault, who thanked her federal counterpart and the Canadian Rangers, who will support Quebec public health officials in Nunavik.

"The goal is to screen for and minimize the transmission of COVID-19 in these communities," Guilbault tweeted.

The Rangers — who number about 5,000 members total — provide a Canadian Forces presence in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada. 

The 2nd Canadian Ranger patrol group is responsible for Quebec and is headquartered in Richelieu, outside Montreal.

The measures in the remote north come as the province reported another 25 deaths linked to COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 61.

Premier Francois Legault cautioned the vast majority of those deaths were not in the past 24 hours, but because the province was probing 20 prior fatalities to see whether they had been the result of the virus.

The province recorded an additional 583 positive cases of COVID-19, for a total of 6,101. Authorities say 429 people are in hospital with 122 in intensive care.

Of those confirmed cases, there have been two in Nunavik.

Josee Levesque, a spokeswoman for the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, said the military assistance announced Friday is a community response as the Rangers are a local resource already present in the region.

"When I'm talking about our needs, it's about helping us deploy services on the territory — 14 isolated communities," Levesque said, adding Rangers will be stationed in all communities.

For now, that support will come in the form of putting up heated tents outside clinics that will be used exclusively for testing and triage of COVID-19 cases.

There could be additional requests for help, Levesque said.

The Rangers' COVID-19 deployment comes amid a rapidly changing situation in Quebec's remote north in the past week.

On Thursday, public health officials in Nunavik announced they would be imposing a lockdown in the region beginning Friday.

There would no longer be regular flights to and from Nunavik's 14 communities, and flights between fly-in communities were also cancelled until further notice.

On Monday, the vast region in northern Quebec, home to the province's Inuit communities, announced strict rules against all public gatherings and closed all public spaces.

Authorities encouraged church services to be broadcast online and put in a curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Levesque said the situation is no different than in the south — some people are getting the message better than others.

The rules have been adjusted to meet the needs of those living in the north, however. For instance, when many people live under roof, the advice given is to stick with those people for shopping or going into the bush.

"We're getting a good response, people are listening, they are asking questions," Levesque said. 

Also Friday, Quebec announced that families wishing to take seniors who are in good health out of residences and long-term care facilities will be able to do so, as long those elderly family members are able to walk out of the home themselves.

"We have to be careful — family won't be allowed to go inside to get their relatives," Premier Francois Legault said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press