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Windsor-area health unit pauses arrival of temporary foreign workers amid COVID surge

WINDSOR, Ont. — Health officials in the Windsor, Ont., region have issued an order halting the arrival of temporary foreign workers for several weeks in light of COVID-19 outbreaks in the agricultural sector.

In a notice issued earlier this week, the acting medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex instructed employers to cancel or postpone the arrival of temporary foreign workers until at least Feb. 2.

Those who fail to comply with the order could face charges or fines, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai said in the notice.

The doctor said there are currently a "significant number" of outbreaks at agricultural businesses, with those affected by the outbreaks requiring isolation and possible medical supervision.

The community does not have enough resources to manage the self-isolation programs, and the health-care system also has limited capacity to handle the surge in COVID-19 infections fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, he said.

A group advocating for migrant workers said the order suggests foreign workers are to blame for outbreaks when, in fact, their living conditions and lack of access to supports are what's putting them at risk.

The workers who are currently sick aren't people who recently arrived, but primarily those who have been here for a long time, said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. He noted seasonal workers wouldn't normally come until the end of February or early March.

"The issue here isn't that hundreds of workers that are COVID infected are coming into the country, it's that hundreds of workers are coming into the country (and being placed) in congregate living settings where, even if one person is sick, everybody gets sick," he said.

"That's a result of the living and working conditions."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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