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Farmers needing help with offshore workers have health unit’s priority

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The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is treating the offshore labour situation with a high sense of urgency, the counties’ medical officer of health said in a conference call.

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A “disproportionate” number of the unit’s 100 employees are reviewing and approving farm quarantine plans, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai said in a question-and-answer session with local media on April 20.

This is a proper use of resources, the doctor added, given the basic nutritional needs of the community and the contribution fresh fruits and vegetables make toward it.

“Food is an important part of public health,” Nesathurai said. “We’re trying to balance two important aspects of public health.”

The other aspect involves the social distancing and self-isolation required to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pathogen through the community.

The estimated 5,000 offshore workers required to produce a normal harvest in Norfolk, Nesathurai said, represent a significant spike in the county’s population (64,000) at a time when hard borders and international travel restrictions are in place to isolate and eventually banish the coronavirus from the human-to-human chain-of-transmission. Caution, he said, is of the essence.

Matt Terry, a spokesperson for Norfolk County, said the health unit so far has approved more than 200 farm quarantine plans involving 2,175 migrant workers.

Terry says health unit staff members have prioritized applications according to how urgently workers are needed. Spring-time harvests involving asparagus and strawberries, for example, go to the top of the pile, as do applications from farmers who expect to have their orchards pruned by now. Also high priority are farms which plant vegetables once the threat of frost passes.

Offshore labourers in Norfolk come from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and the east Caribbean. Farmers are required to quarantine workers for the first 14 days they are in Canada to ensure they are not carrying or suffering symptoms of COVID-19.

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