Southern Ontario public health district reverses course on blocking TFW arrivals

Edited: This story has been updated, including the headline, to reflect the public health district rescinding the original letter that blocked TFW movement into the health region until February 2, 2022.

The Windsor Essex public health region has rescinded a statement invoking a section of the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020, to stop temporary foreign workers from entering the health district until early February.

In a letter published January 11, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, acting medical officer of health for the district, had written: “I have determined it is necessary to take further and immediate action to limit the spread of COVID-19, to protect our community’s health and our health system within the areas served by the Health Unit.”

The letter would have caused farmers and farm businesses to “immediately cancel, suspend, or postpone any arrangements made to facilitate entry or arrival of TFWs which were intended to arrive in the Health Unit between January 13, 2022 at 12:01 a.m. and February 1, 2022 at 11:59 p.m.”

Then, late on January 14th, the health district published a new letter, saying an agreement had been made between the district and the province.

“Organizations and agencies within the Health Unit, working collaboratively, have been able to arrange for a sufficient capacity of self-isolation residences and the necessary human resources to support individuals living in temporary foreign worker congregate settings who may require self-isolation,” wrote Nesathurai.

The region is an important one for the fruit and vegetable sector of Ontario, and depends on a temporary foreign labour force to plant, tend, and harvest the crop each year.

Jack Sullivan, press secretary to the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs says, “Our government appreciates the extensive and collaborative efforts that the Windsor Essex County Health Unit, the Canadian Red Cross, the City of Windsor, the federal government, and the agri-food sector have done to keep international agricultural workers healthy and safe while continuing to preserve public health and health care capacity in the region.”

Over the next three weeks, approximately 400 international agricultural workers will arrive in the Windsor-Essex region, the vast majority of which are from Jamaica and Mexico. According to OMAFRA, nearly all workers from Jamaica and Mexico are double vaccinated, and all international agricultural workers arriving in Ontario are being offered a first, second or booster dose at Toronto Pearson International Airport, before leaving the terminal.

Due to the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, additional isolation and recovery spaces for international agricultural workers are immediately being added, says Sullivan, for those who test positive or come into close contact with a positive case. Approximately 50 spaces will be coming online as soon as tomorrow (January 15), with further capacity of self-isolation spaces and the necessary health human resources coming online in the coming days.

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