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Pandemic rules 'a mess,’ Haldimand-Norfolk medical officer says

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Norfolk and Haldimand’s medical officer of health is sympathizing with area farmers who have tried to comply with federal and provincial regulations regarding COVID-19 and migrant workers.

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Dr. Alex Hukowich has been getting up to speed on the pandemic’s impact on offshore labourers since he was appointed in May as the interim replacement for the counties’ outgoing medical officer Dr. Shanker Nesathurai.

Hukowich is astounded at how difficult authorities have made it for farmers to comply with federal and provincial expectations.

“I’ve spent the past three weeks reading through this stuff,” Hukowich told Norfolk and Haldimand’s board of health on June 15. “It’s a pile two feet high, and I don’t know that lawyers fully understand it. It’s confusing; it’s a mess.

“You have these documents that start out and then refer you to another document which refers you to another document and then to another document. I don’t know how farmers can cope with all of that. I don’t know how they could understand the rules they’re expected to abide by.”

Hukowich met with members of Norfolk’s agricultural advisory board prior to the meeting. He came away excited by the suggestion that Ottawa and Queen’s Park could save everyone a lot of time and aggravation if they identified the offshore workers who are coming to Canada and arranged to have them vaccinated against COVID-19 before they boarded a plane.

That way, Hukowich said, workers would arrive in Canada almost fully protected from the coronavirus. That would cut down on case counts here, he said, adding it’s not too late for federal authorities to arrange shots for the 2,000 or so offshore workers set to arrive in Norfolk and Haldimand from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad and other Caribbean islands.

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“A vaccination two weeks before you got on a plane would eliminate a lot of anguish and save a lot of dollars in the agricultural community,” said Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus, a member of the board of health.

Hukowich noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged a large donation of COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries at the recent G7 summit in England. Ensuring some of these shots got into the arms of workers en route to Canada would be a smart application of these resources, Hukowich said.

“Canada has promised vaccines to other countries,” he said. “Clearly, if these people were immunized two weeks before they came on a plane, it might solve a whole bunch of our problems here in terms of outbreaks.”

The board of health directed Hukowich to share this suggestion with federal and provincial authorities as well as managers of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS), overseers of the offshore worker program locally.

Hukowich continues to review the instructions and Section 22 orders he inherited from Nesathurai regarding farmers and offshore workers. He’s been hampered in this pursuit by the lack of comparable data from other health districts that also have significant migrant worker populations.

These health districts have less stringent rules on bunkhouse occupancy during the mandatory 14-day quarantine period and no restrictions on how many migrant workers can travel in a vehicle from Pearson International Airport in Toronto to their employers’ bunkhouses.

Hukowich has asked the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Health for this information but they have been unable to provide it.

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