Charter flights bring health professionals, essential services to fly-in First Nations communities in provinces during COVID-19
Indigenous Service Canada is using special charter flights to bring essential service personnel and supplies to fly-in First Nations communities in provinces to reduce the risk of exposing those communities and personnel to COVID-19. For these communities the ongoing delivery of essential services and supplies in an environment where travel is limited is particularly challenging but critical to Canada's overall response to COVID-19.
The first of the carefully-managed flights took place on April 22. That day, 45 nurses were flown to and from 23 fly-in First Nations communities. On April 27 another 22 nurses were flown to 13 fly-in communities in Ontario with 18 flying out on return charter flights. These health care workers are part of the regular complement of nurses that normally service these communities.
These charter flights allow nursing and other personnel to board at dedicated terminals where strict health and safety procedures are being enforced.
Nurses and other professionals on the flights are observing mandatory 2-week, at-home self-isolation before travelling and also must self-screen their health status. Longer 4-week rotations into communities will be applied to minimize changes in staff and protect health and safety of community members.
Providing these charters ensures communities have access to health care professionals, medical supplies as well as infrastructure professionals and equipment to maintain critical infrastructure such as water treatment plants. Charter flights also provide flexibility to support other needs such as emergency management response, food security or medivac services as required.
As well as maintaining critical services, this approach also provides a revenue stream to airlines serving First Nations communities, helping to support their economic long-term viability.
Flights continued on May 6, with 88 nurses flown to 35 fly-in communities in Ontario and Manitoba and 64 flying out of 31 fly-in communities on return charter flights. Future flights are planned for May 20, June 3 and June 17, and will continue every 4 weeks until it is safe to return to the previous process.
Through this charter service arrangement, Indigenous Services Canada is able to support dedicated nurses like Ruth Lockhart who make incredible efforts to serve isolated Indigenous communities. She shared her experience and appreciation of the charter flights:
"Thank you very much for all the work and effort that went into arranging the charters. I realize that this wasn't an easy process and was quite stressful. I felt very privileged and special to be able to travel back home through the use of the charters. Thank you for looking out for us and finding the safest way home for us to be with our families."