Freight backlogs leave some grocery shelves bare in parts of Nunavut

Canadian North says delays that hit the Baffin region were prompted by latest wave of COVID-19.

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Iqaluit’s grocery shelves have sat empty at certain points during the most recent COVID-19 lockdown in the city, such as the Northmart shelves pictured. (Courtesy of Connie Naulaq via Nunatsiaq News)

Grocery stores across the Baffin region are struggling to keep their shelves stocked due to shipping delays caused by the spread of the latest wave of COVID-19.

Craig Bettridge, who lives in Pangnirtung, said he was recently able to get staples like bread for the first time in approximately two weeks.

“It had been very frustrating trying to make meals without essential foods,” he said.

Iqaluit resident Connie Naulaq says she was able to get produce from the grocery store early Sunday, but when she returned Monday, the shelves were empty once again.

“It’s pretty slim pickings and a town of 8,000 people shouldn’t have to get through it,” she said.

The backlog is blamed on weather conditions, coupled with the most recent wave of COVID-19 cases, according to Canadian North spokesperson Kevin Kablutsiak. Bad weather in Iqaluit and Ottawa over the past month has impacted flights as well.

COVID-19 has put flight crews into isolation, and a lack of testing capacity has delayed their return to work.

To help alleviate the freight backlogs, Canadian North has had two heavy-lift aircrafts bring food to Iqaluit on Friday and Saturday, with another flight planned for Monday, Kablutsiak said.

For Baffin communities outside Iqaluit, cargo has been prioritized by cancelling scheduled passenger flights that had little to no reservations and Canadian North has received help from other airlines as well.

“We continue to keep food supply chains moving, weather permitting,” Kablutsiak said.

Arctic Co-operatives spokesperson Duane Wilson said that only stores in the Baffin region are affected by the backlogs, and the challenges his company faces are similar to that of previous lockdowns prompted by COVID-19.

“The difference is that the [COVID-19] cases are more widespread and a lot deeper in each community,” he said, adding the current wave of COVID-19 cases may expose how vulnerable the supply chain to Nunavut can be.

If the operations of warehouses, trucking or other shipping-related services in southern Canada are further disrupted, “then that presents another risk or another potentially broken link somewhere else in the supply chain,” Wilson said.