Coronavirus: Ontario launches new strategy to bolster farm protection

The new strategy was presented Monday morning at a media conference in Kingsville. Government of Ontario Announcements / YouTube

The result of a joint effort between government and industry is looking to better support farmers in the battle against COVID-19.

The new strategy was presented by Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman during a media conference in Kingsville on Monday morning.

Read more: Migrant worker fired for speaking about COVID 19 wins labour case against farm

It comes equipped with 35 recommended actions for industry members and governments alike with a focus on preventing and containing the spread of COVID-19.

“All I did was call a meeting of all the people together, provided the expertise of our ministry, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and put that together with what the industry has experienced,” Hardeman said, touting the document as a strategy for the industry by the industry.

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A number of the recommendations relate to common pandemic protocols, such as screening workers, sanitizing equipment and providing personal protective equipment.

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Farms are also encouraged to create cohorts for workers and limit the movement of workers between different farm operations and sites.

The strategy also aims to address potential stigmas associated with testing farm workers for COVID-19.

During Monday’s media conference, Hardeman pointed to stories he had heard of migrant workers fearing they’d be deported or go without pay if they tested positive for the virus.

“Yes, they will get paid, yes, you will keep your job, and we want to make sure everyone understands that going in,” Hardeman said, adding that communications addressing these stigmas will be made culturally specific in order to prevent any misunderstanding.

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“They need to know the need to get tested and I think that’s really what the protocol is about.”

Read more: Ontario’s agricultural food businesses to get funding to help prevent spread of COVID-19

The strategy also contains a significant focus on housing, with one recommended action calling for the creation of a working group to “focus on immediate housing pressures.”

“We saw that a lot of the housing that we presently have and have had for years is fine, until you have a pandemic… we have to have something different,” Hardeman said.

“The approvals for the housing is a federal issue, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all be collectively looking at how we can improve the housing stock.”

Hardeman told reporters that he doesn’t expect enforcement measures such as increased inspections will be necessary going forward, as he believes it will be in the industry’s best interest to follow the new protocol.

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