Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

The public health unit in Ontario’s Windsor-Essex region has reversed course on a plan to stop the arrival of temporary farm workers in the midst of the Omicron rise.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) said Friday that an instruction letter issued earlier in the week has been revoked with immediate effect.

The letter stated that employers should cancel, suspend or postpone the arrival of temporary foreign workers to the region between 13 January and 1 February.

“Throughout the week, the health unit has worked with all levels of government to formulate a solution to this issue,” WECHU said in a statement on Friday.

“With the concerted efforts of local leaders in health care, housing and social services…, the region was jointly able to establish the necessary level of support to meet the isolation requirements of sick or vulnerable workers.”

About 50 new isolation and restoration sites will be available on Saturday, and more will be added soon, according to the Ontario Department of Agriculture.

Hilda MacDonald, the mayor of Leamington, Ont., Says the reversal of the health unit’s order is “fantastic” news. (CBC)

A statement from the ministry said about 400 agricultural workers would arrive in Windsor-Essex over the next three weeks, mostly from Jamaica and Mexico. Most workers from these countries will be double-vaccinated against COVID-19, but all will be offered a first, second or booster dose at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

The plan to delay the arrival of workers sparked concerns that it could cost farmers millions and lead to massive food waste.

The face comes as a relief, says Joe Sbrocchi, general manager of Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers.

“I think breeders … are happy that this has been resolved,” Sbrocchi told CBC News. “We can go ahead and do what we have to do, which is grow and produce food for Canadians.”

Sbrocchi says the short-lived order caused “a lot of anxiety”, but as far as he knows, no plane was canceled or pushed because of it.

He says the health unit acted in “haste”.

But the mayor of Leamington, Ont., A large agricultural community in the region, disagrees. Hilda MacDonald said Friday that the health unit had been “pushed to the wall and sawed.” [the order] as their only alternative. “

“Sometimes we have to engage in drastic measures to achieve results,” MacDonald said.

Public health officials estimate that 2,000 workers have already arrived in the region. In the high season, 8,000 to 10,000 workers are expected.

As of Thursday, there were 66 cases of COVID-19 among workers and a further 173 in isolation, according to WECHU.

Joe Sbrocchi of Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers says the short-lived order caused ‘a lot of anxiety’ among local growers. (Jason Viau / CBC)

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