Federal funding will help support the Indigenous nation’s efforts to combat the virus and bolster vaccinations.

United States President Joe Biden has issued a disaster declaration for the Navajo Nation over the coronavirus pandemic, a move that unlocks much-needed federal financial assistance and other support for the Indigenous community.

In a news release on Wednesday, the White House said the approval authorises the distribution of funds under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support the Nation’s efforts to combat COVID-19.

“Federal funding is available to the Navajo Nation and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct Federal assistance, for the entire Tribe impacted by COVID-19,” the White House said.

Navajo Nation leaders welcomed the move, which they said had been “long-awaited”.

The declaration includes the issuance of funds under FEMA to support the tribe’s efforts in combating COVID [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

“Our administration has advocated for the declaration for quite some time. This is a great step forward and now we have to step up our efforts and coordinate with FEMA,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement.

The Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, and counts a population of more than 170,000 residents within that area, has been one of the hardest-hit communities in the southwestern US during the pandemic.

According to the latest figures, there are currently more than 28,000 active cases of COVID-19 on Navajo Nation territory, and 1,032 deaths linked to the coronavirus have been reported to date.

Navajo Nation leaders have imposed a daily curfew from 9pm to 5am in an effort to stem the potential spread of infections.

In its statement, the Navajo Nation said it expects FEMA to help with COVID-19 vaccine distribution and provide medical equipment as well as medical personnel to administer vaccine doses and treat COVID-19 patients.

The Navajo Nation has a daily curfew in place from 9pm to 5am until further notice [Andrew Hay/Reuters]

The Navajo Nation began receiving vaccination shipments in December amid an alarming rise in cases. On December 3, the Nation sent a formal request to former President Donald Trump to issue a disaster declaration and provide federal assistance to the community.

“We have been in a state of emergency since the pandemic began here on the Navajo Nation, but that has now elevated to a major health care crisis,” Nez, the president, said in a statement at that time.

How much funding the nation had requested – and how much FEMA will now dispense after Biden’s order – was not specified on Wednesday.

“Navajo leaders have worked diligently to safeguard elders and other tribal members while working closely with partners to strengthen testing, deliver PPE and life-sustaining supplies, ensure medical treatment and now support vaccination efforts,” Robert J Fenton, FEMA’s acting administrator, said in the statement.

“The President’s major disaster declaration acknowledges the Navajo Nation’s ongoing needs, efforts and the strong nation-nation relationship we share,” he said.

This post first appeared on Aljazeera.com

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