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Coronavirus: B.C. says it will oversee quarantine of temporary foreign workers

B.C. will oversee temporary foreign workers quarantine

Agricultural producers in B.C. are breathing a sigh of relief this week after the federal government doled out a $50 million COVID-19 lifeline to the industry on Monday.

“Yesterday was the first day that I kind of felt optimistic with our farming situation since this crisis began,” said B.C. Cherry Growers Association president Suhkpaul Bal.

The money is meant to help ensure that Canadians have access to high-quality food at a reasonable price.

Coronavirus outbreak: Minister Bibeau announces $50m in healthcare measures for food supply chain workers
Coronavirus outbreak: Minister Bibeau announces $50m in healthcare measures for food supply chain workers

It will provide agricultural employers with $1,500 per foreign worker, to help cover quarantine costs upon arrival in Canada.

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“I’m very pleased that the government stepped and put forward that funding,” said Bal.

It’s a major shot in the arm for the industry that will act as a much-needed boost to the Canadian food chain’s immunity against the coronavirus crisis.

“It takes a lot of the risk out of getting the workers here, a lot of the unknowns, so it’s seen as a very positive announcement,” said Glen Lucas, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association.

Coronavirus outbreak: Supply chains trying to cope with changing demands during COVID-19
Coronavirus outbreak: Supply chains trying to cope with changing demands during COVID-19

On Tuesday, there was more good news for agricultural producers in B.C. who depend upon 10,000 seasonal workers to get their product to market.

The provincial minister of agriculture says B.C. will now be responsible for quarantining new foreign workers who intend to work here.

“They will be screened at the airport and then they will be moved into accommodation that we have arranged,” said agriculture minister Lana Popham.

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“Many of the workers will be staying at hotels, and, because these workers are so essential, we thought the best way to do it was centralize the system.”

Popham continued that since the province knows where everybody is during the 14-day period, “the province will be paying for acclamation and paying for the food.”

READ MORE: Agriculture worker conditions in Okanagan a ‘ticking time bomb’ for COVID-19: advocate group

Industry insiders say not only is provincial quarantine good news for growers, it’s news for everyone.

“It’s very important that the public know that these workers have been properly quarantined properly looked after and we are not introducing a health risk into the community,” said David Geen of Coral Beach Farms in Lake Country.

A local migrant workers advocate group agrees.

“This is crucial for protecting workers health and protecting our community,” said Robyn Bunn of Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (RAMA).

COVID-19: What the Canadian government is doing for farmers
COVID-19: What the Canadian government is doing for farmers

Bunn, in fact, would like to see the idea adopted across the country.

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“I think that this should be used as a model for how other provinces are approaching this,” said Bunn.

Both moves are seen as important policies set by the federal and provincial governments.

Geen said “because what we do right now will influence what kind of availability we have when it comes to Canadian produce and meat and seafood through the balance of 2020.”