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Wife of Nunavut man who died from COVID-19 pleads with people to get vaccinated

IQALUIT, Nunavut — The wife of a Nunavut man who died from COVID-19 after contracting it in his community is urging everyone in the territory to get vaccinated.

IQALUIT, Nunavut — The wife of a Nunavut man who died from COVID-19 after contracting it in his community is urging everyone in the territory to get vaccinated.

Luki Sammurtok died in December after he was flown from his home in Arviat to a southern hospital. 

Diane Sammurtok called in to Arviat's local radio station last week and pleaded with people to get the vaccine. A recording of the call was played at a Nunavut government news conference Thursday, and broadcast over radio and television.

Speaking through tears and sobs, Sammurtok said in the recording that she doesn't want anyone to experience what she did. 

"Going through watching your loved one pass away is not a joke. COVID is not a joke," she said. "I will never have my husband back."

"Please, please get the COVID shot."

Sammurtok also told people not to wait to get the vaccine, which arrived in the territory after her husband died.

Premier Joe Savikataaq, who is from Arviat and represents the community in the legislative assembly, had tears in his eyes as he listened to the woman's plea. His voice later shook as he addressed the media.

"I don't share her words to scare you, but I just want Nunavummiut to know how real and how hurtful COVID-19 can be," he said. 

Arviat, a community of about 2,800 on the western shore of Hudson Bay, was the centre of Nunavut's largest COVID-19 outbreak. The community had 222 of the territory's 266 cases.

There are no active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut and all but one person have recovered. In addition to Sammurtok, four other Nunavut residents have died after contracting COVID-19 in Southern Canada.

Nunavut's chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said more than 600 people in the territory have been vaccinated so far.

Nunavut received 6,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine Dec. 30 and is to receive 6,000 more this week. Patterson said he also expects another 6,000 doses to arrive Feb. 1.

The municipal government of Arviat is holding a raffle to encourage vaccinations. Anyone who gets a shot can have their name entered to win one of five cash prizes of $2,000 each.

The premier said he will get the shot when it's his turn.

He also urged residents to stop spreading misinformation about the vaccine.

"I feel like a broken record these days. But I think I need to restate some important details, because I keep hearing misinformation over and over about the vaccine," Savikataaq said.

"If you don't want to take the vaccine, that's your personal decision. But you should not be pushing untrue, unfounded and false information to try to discourage other Nunavummiut."

Community leaders also need to promote the vaccine, he said.

"We owe it to each other and to keep our communities safe. Please protect yourself and your loved ones."

Vaccination clinics are underway in four communities this week, including Arviat, and are to roll out next week in Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet, Baker Lake and Whale Cove. People who live and work in shelters in Iqaluit are also to receive the vaccine next week. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press