Province implementing plan to reduce COVID-19 on farms in Ontario

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The Ontario government has announced a three-point plan to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on Ontario farms, particularly those in Windsor-Essex, which remains the only region to have not yet moved into Stage 2 of the province's reopening.

The province says recent outbreaks in the agriculture and agri-food sectors pose unique challenges, but health officials are hoping to stop the spread of the virus and move the region into Stage 2 as soon as it's safe.

The three-point plan includes expanding on-site testing at agri-food businesses and community assessment centres, ensuring temporary foreign workers have access to employment benefits and protections, and issuing new public health guidance that allows positive asymptomatic workers to continue working as long as they follow measures to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

According to the province, about 350 asymptomatic workers have been tested at their work site since on-site testing launched this past weekend.

"We are doing everything we can to help Windsor-Essex contain this virus and get back on track, so we can allow local businesses to reopen and get more people back to work," said Premier Doug Ford.

"Clearly, our agricultural sector in this part of the province is being hit particularly hard. Our three-point plan will give farmers the support they need to protect essential workers and ensure they can keep putting food safely on our tables."

When asked why the province wasn't naming farms with COVID-19 outbreaks like it does with long-term care homes, Ford said the comparison was "apples to oranges" and stated that he wants to protect farm workers, including the thousands of migrant workers in the sector.

"There's well over 11,000, sometimes it'll peak up to 16,000 in the Fall as well -- these people mean no harm to Ontario. They're trying to help us," said Ford. "I'm there to protect them, not to hurt them."

Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, emphasized that the province wants to ensure that workers of all nationalities in the agriculture sector are safe.

"A worker's passport does not determine how they are treated in our system," said McNaughton. "That's not the Ontario way. If you're working in this province, I want you to know that your health and safety is a priority for our government."

The province says health experts will continue to closely monitor the situation in all regions to advise when public health restrictions can be gradually loosened or adjusted, as well as when regions can expect to enter Stage 3.

Stage 3 will focus on reopening more workplaces and community spaces, carefully and gradually relaxing restrictions, and sustaining and expanding workplace health and safety guidance.

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