Montreal’s public health department has acknowledged that some neighbourhoods on the island are seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, partly because some residents are reluctant to get tested for fear of a loss of income.
It’s a situation health-care workers are seeing especially in Parc-Extension, one of the city’s most densely-populated communities, with a large immigrant and refugee population.
‘We should not generalize, but it is worrying,” said public health spokesperson Jean-Nicolas Aubé.
“An employee should not be afraid to go for a test because he fears the economic consequences. Employers should not put pressure on a symptomatic worker to come to work, on the contrary, they should put pressure on them to go for testing, without negative consequences.”
One local nurse who works at a COVID-19 testing centre in Parc-Extension spoke to Global News anonymously. He described a situation of concern. He says some people won’t get tested for COVID-19 because they fear quarantine and a loss of income.
He says some residents are refugee claimants who have no status, and are working illegally while their claims are being processed.
They can’t access government financial aid programs, and fear losing two weeks of income while having to quarantine. He also said some parents are getting their children tested, but instead of keeping them home while waiting for results, they are sending them to school so they can go to work.
Housing activist Faiz Abhuani doesn’t believe people are knowingly spreading COVID-19. But he does feel there aren’t enough programs to help the low income and needy in his area.
“I think if there were more social services and people did not feel the bite of poverty…then we might be doing a lot better than other areas that are more privileged,” said Abhuani, the director of Brick for Brick, a community housing organization in Parc-Extension.
McGill professor of social work Jill Hanley works in the area at the local CIUSS or regional health authority. She also doesn’t believe residents would knowingly put anyone at risk. But she does acknowledge some people may not get tested if they’re working in a factory where someone may have been exposed, for example.
“I think we are putting people into terrible ethical dilemmas and people are having to make very difficult choices,” Hanley said.
She believes it’s time for the government to grant status to undocumented workers in the area so they can access programs to cover lost income in the case they are COVID-19 positive.
“Excluding precarious status or non-status people from the emergency measures we have is a detrimental measure in terms of human rights, and also public health,” Hanley said.
Laura Wills lives and works in the area. She has two children in school and has volunteered for several community organizations. She believes it should be much easier for non-status workers to have their income covered if they have to take time off while recovering from the virus.
“I think there needs to be more responsibility on the part of the employers to make sure their employees have flexibility to get tested and have job security and not be put in a situation there they are in a financial crisis and lose their home,” Will said.