Spike in COVID cases among farm workers, including J'cans, in Ontario
Authorities in Ontario, Canada are moving to increase testing for COVID-19 after a spike in cases there has been linked to several farms where migrant workers, including Jamaicans, have tested positive for the virus.
Ontario's Premier, Doug Ford, disclosed on Monday that more than 80 migrant workers have tested positive for the virus, according to the Canadian Star news website.
A breakdown of the positive cases among the migrant workers based on their specific countries was not provided. Media reports, however, have listed Jamaicans among farm workers who have tested positive over time.
It was reported in Jamaica on April 30, that approximately 17 Jamaicans employed to the Green Hill Farm in Ontario, Canada had returned positive results for COVID-19. That news was confirmed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS), which further informed that the affected workers were among those who returned to Canada in January under the North American farm work programme which also includes the United States.
In light of the new development in Ontario, Ford on Monday assured that there would be increased testing for thousands of migrant workers across the province.
Advocacy groups, including Justice for Migrant Workers, have long argued that communal bunkhouses where workers reside can contribute to the spread of the virus.
Additionally, the group has lobbied for the province to ramp up inspections of the farms and the bunkhouses.
Ford told the Canadian Star that the Ontario province may consider "making changes to the communal nature of the bunkhouses in the future." However, he assured that the immediate public health concerns of the migrant workers would be addressed.
“I will definitely be addressing this with public health to make sure that we get all the migrant workers tested to keep them safe, to keep the supply chain and the food safe... We're on this,” the Ontario premier told the Canadian Star.
Approximately 20,000 migrant workers come to Ontario each year to work on farms and in greenhouses.
"Many of the workers come from Mexico, the Caribbean and Guatemala, and when they arrived this year they were required to self-isolate for 14 days," the Canadian Star noted.
But outbreaks that have affected dozens of migrant workers have been reported in Chatham-Kent, Windsor-Essex, Niagara Region and Elgin County in Canada.
The mayor of Norfolk County on Sunday had reported that "120 workers at a local farm have tested positive for COVID-19, with seven of them having been admitted to hospital."
Meanwhile, a labour critic, Wayne Gates, criticised Ford's assurance of testing tor migrant workers, arguing that testing should be applied to all front-line workers.
He also asserted that Canadian companies should "provide migrant workers with proper work and living conditions, as well as personal protective equipment."
“You know, at the end of the day, we have to protect our food supply, but we have to make sure that workers are safe while we do that... Whether you’re somebody from Mexico, Jamaica or Ontario, every life is valued," Gates contended.
The province of Ontario has recorded 338 new COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, bringing the tally to 29,047 with 2,312 deaths.
However, 22,801 cases have been resolved in the province, media reports said.
Overall, Canada has recorded 92,748 cases of the coronavirus, with 7,414 deaths being reported.
A total of 50,357 COVID-19 of the affected persons have recovered to date, according to Worldometers, a site tracking cases of the virus globally.