Long Plain First Nations Chief Dennis Meeches said this week that the community would go into a three week lockdown starting on Dec. 23, as COVID cases continue to rise, while vaccination rates remain low in the community. PHOTO BY CHRIS PROCAYLO /Winnipeg Sun

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Manitoba First Nation is now going into lockdown and imposing a curfew as COVID case counts rise, while vaccination uptake remains alarmingly low.

On Monday evening Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches posted on his Facebook page that Long Plain, an Ojibway and Dakota community that sits near the city of Portage la Prairie, was taking new and strict measures to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“With the spike in positive cases that we are seeing we will go into a lockdown and curfew for Long Plain that could last three weeks,” Meeches posted on his Facebook page.

“This lockdown and curfew will commence Thursday, December 23, 2021. We will also be imposing a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m.”

While speaking to the Winnipeg Sun on Tuesday, Meeches said the lockdown will mean that only essential workers can come and go from the community for the time the regulations are in place.

He said checkpoints will be set up at entrances and exits to the community to ensure no non-members are coming in and that members aren’t leaving.

According to statistics, as of 5 p.m. on Monday of this week in the community that is home to about 4,600 on-reserve members there were 16 active COVID cases, while 31 community members are currently in isolation.

To date, there has been a total of 165 reported COVID-19 cases in the community with 146 total recoveries, and three deaths due to the virus.

Meeches said council made the decision to lockdown because they believed it was time to take precautions because of the Omicron variant that is spreading at a rapid rate all over the world.

“It’s unfortunate we have to do this, but we really don’t have a choice especially with what we know about Omicron, and how fast it spreads,” he said.

“We just need a bit of a circuit breaker here, even though our numbers aren’t anything that is overly high right now, we just don’t want to take any chances especially with the holidays season approaching.”

According to Meeches although a lockdown and curfew just two days before Christmas Day is not something that many community members would want to see happen as many had hoped to spend time with family and friends, he said the community has so far been receptive to the decision.

“Council is not getting a lot of backlash or anger about this so far,” he said. “So far people are generally receptive.

“For the most part, they understand we have to be vigilant and we have to take the necessary precautions, because we have seen the wildfire spread of Omicron in other communities, and we want to prevent that from happening here.”

Meeches also said the lockdown is needed because the community of Long Plain continues to have a vaccination uptake well below the provincial average.

According to statistics released this week only about 31% of eligible residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Long Plain First Nation.

“It’s been a real challenge, and it’s just not happening as fast as we had hoped,” Meeches said.

“It’s hard to battle all the misinformation on social media and there is so much misinformation out there that it is hard to dissect what is real from what is false.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. See article HERE.

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