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Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit announces plan for agricultural community during COVID-19 pandemic

March 28, 2020, Simcoe, ON – Haldimand and Norfolk counties, with the support of the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, continue to implement a robust COVID-19 response strategy aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

Part of that strategy is to provide support to Haldimand and Norfolk’s significant agricultural community, helping to keep farm workers healthy, protect the local community and keep the first link in the critical food supply chain strong.

Today the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit announced a plan designed to assist the agricultural community and prevent the spread of COVID-19 locally.

“Just as we were ahead of the curve in mandating quarantines for returning travellers, we’re once again leading by example,” says Kristal Chopp, Chair of the Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health. “With the lack of an organized approach from any other level of government, we’re developing our own plan to manage the COVID-19 pandemic while ensuring local farmers can continue to safely operate their farms and deliver fresh produce to Canadians.”

The plan includes the Medical Officer of Health ordering those entering Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program to self-isolate for 14 days – the same requirement for any Canadian re-entering the country after international travel. 

The order requires each agricultural enterprise to articulate a plan for self-isolation for newly-arrived migrant workers, and will be strictly enforced.

In order to expedite the process, Norfolk County is developing a program aimed at helping farmers manage these new requirements, including the possibility of isolation facilities – similar to those used in Trenton, Ontario – for migrant workers to self-isolate when on-farm space is unavailable. Unlike those in Trenton, however, these will be funded by local farmers.

The plan also includes the organization of a pool of local residents, who would be available to assist farm operations during this busy time of season, and strict enforcement of self-isolation orders issued by the public health service.

“We’ve heard from the public and we’ve heard from the farming community. The special exception granted to farmers (to bring migrant workers to Canada during the pandemic) is a controversial one,” says Chopp. “But if Canadian borders remain closed for a prolonged amount of time, we want to make sure that high-quality, locally-grown food is available to keep Canadians strong and healthy. 

“We’ll use all of the powers granted to us under the state of emergency to ensure the integrity of the migrant worker program. That means enforcing all legislation, including that covering individuals who want to circumvent the system – and jeopardize the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program – by using black market farm labour, which will not be tolerated.

“As the province’s leading grower of so many kinds of produce, we have an obligation to the agricultural community, the rest of our residents, and the people of Ontario and Canada. We think that isolating migrant workers for two weeks is a small price to pay to ensure Canadians continue to be fed.”

Details on the plan will be made public in the coming days.