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Coronavirus: Ontario government considering vaccinating migrant farm workers on arrival

Click to play video: 'Ontario migrant worker demands more protection from federal government during COVID-19 pandemic' Ontario migrant worker demands more protection from federal government during COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH ABOVE (July 2020): An Ontario migrant worker reads his letter demanding for better protection and permanent residency for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic – Jul 30, 2020

TORONTO — Ontario would like to see migrant farm workers vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they arrive and is willing to take on the task if Ottawa doesn’t, a top provincial health official said Thursday.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer of health, said the province is in talks with the federal government to have the temporary foreign workers given a vaccine “when they come in, optimally at the airport.”

“We’re working with the federal government on this, hopefully they will be OK to do it,” Yaffe told reporters. “If they don’t do it, we will probably do it because it’s important.”

Read more: ‘Everyone is at risk’: Migrants and undocumented workers need the COVID-19 vaccine too

During the first wave of the pandemic, dozens of farm outbreaks were reported across Ontario as the province struggled to test and isolate workers.

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More than 1,780 temporary foreign workers tested positive for COVID-19 in the province last year, and three died of the virus.

Advocates, doctors and labour groups have been calling on all levels of government to ensure the vaccination of all migrant and undocumented workers.

Yaffe said vaccinating migrant farm workers on arrival would involve many considerations, including ensuring information is properly translated so workers can understand that the immunization process is voluntary.

Some 20,000 temporary foreign workers are employed on Ontario farms each year.

Farm workers are currently set to be vaccinated in the second phase of Ontario’s vaccine rollout, set to begin next month.

Migrant farm workers are listed as priorities during that phase because many live in congregate settings considered high-risk for COVID-19 spread.

Read more: Coronavirus: Canada’s migrant farm workers face fatal COVID-19 outbreaks, alleged mistreatment

Yaffe also said Thursday that more contagious COVID-19 “variants of concern” now make up 50 per cent of new cases in the province.

The province’s top doctor has said variants of COVID-19 are causing more severe illness, leading to intensive care admissions and deaths.

Dr. David Williams also noted this week that more young people appear to be getting more severely ill from the variants.

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