Esk’etemc First Nation is under a two-week lockdown as a precautionary measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Jonathan Hand photo)

B.C. Interior First Nation on 14-day lockdown as precaution against COVID-19

Esk’et is requiring all community members to remain inside homes or yards at all times

As entire communities, First Nations in B.C. are heeding the advice to stay home and self-isolate to protect themselves against the threat of COVID-19.

Esk’etemc First Nation, located about 45 minutes south of Williams Lake, went into a two-week lockdown just before midnight on Tuesday, March 24 as a precautionary measure.

Esk’etemc First Nation communications manager Jonathan Hand told the Tribune Wednesday leadership is being proactive by stopping non-essential travel into the community.

“The lockdown requires all community members to remain inside their homes or yards at all times, with the exception of livestock owners who are permitted to feed animals twice a day.”

Only residents and members under essential travel, who will be screened by security, will be allowed into the community and any community members returning home will be required to adhere to the 14-day lockdown.

“We have a lot of community members who are considered at-risk, whether they be elders or have underlying health issues. This whole lock down scenario is about trying to be proactive and look at what is happening in other places and how quickly you can be taken by surprise.”

Hand said if nothing happens and no one gets sick, it might seem like an over-reaction, but that’s the whole point.

“Professionals, health care workers and governments are saying the only way to fight this is through distancing and isolation so we are taking that seriously.”

Alkali Enterprises Store in the community has closed to the public, but staff are delivering food supplies to residents, as well as hand sanitizer and soap, with the cost born by leadership.

Read more: Checkpoints stopping visitors entering Stswecem’c Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek/Dog Creek) First Nation

During the pandemic, the store has been bringing in more stock than it normally would to help secure the local food supply.

Deliveries of goods and services, also screened, will be allowed into the community with minimal contact, as well.

Non-essential travellers and non-residents will be asked to turn around and not enter the community, however, leadership has communicated with ranchers and other local residents ensuring they will not be stopped.

Presently leadership and staff are developing a mental health strategy and counsellors are already reaching out to residents over the phone, online and by video.

Internet connectivity in the community is good because in December fibre optics was installed there, Hand added.

All buildings in the community are closed, however, a skeleton crew is working in the band office and the emergency operations centre is operating there.

Staff at the band office will be available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer questions by phone at 250-440-5611.

Just down the road from Esk’etemc First Nation, checkpoints are also in place at all entrances to Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Dog Creek) stopping non-residents from entering their remote community due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns.

About five hours west of Williams Lake on Highway 20, a local state of emergency has been declared by the Nuxalk Nation requesting a shutdown of all non-essential travel in and out of the community for 14 days. The declaration, dated March 21, describes the COVID-19 virus as an “imminent threat” to the Nuxalk Nation and requests anyone who has traveled in from outside the community self-isolate for 14 days.

They have set up a checkpoint at the bottom of the Bella Coola hill.

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