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164 people test positive for COVID-19 on farm near Simcoe, Ont.

Premier Doug Ford says the province will ramp up testing of migrant workers to keep them, and the food supply safe
Shutterstock/Andrii Yalanskyi

Premier Doug Ford pledged Monday to ramp up testing for thousands of migrant workers across Ontario after a number of new farm outbreaks were reported in recent days.

Ford attributed a spike in Ontario's positive COVID-19 cases to the farms, saying more than 80 migrant workers have tested positive for the virus. An update released by the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit on Tuesday said 164 people have now tested positive for the virus.

The premier said he had seen first-hand the communal bunkhouses where workers lived, which advocates said could contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

"I will definitely be addressing this with public health to make sure that we get all the migrant workers tested to keep them safe, to keep the supply chain and the food safe," he said. "We're on this."

Approximately 20,000 migrant workers come to Ontario each year to work on farms and in greenhouses. Outbreaks that have affected dozens of migrant workers have been reported in Chatham-Kent, Windsor-Essex, Niagara Region and Elgin County.

On Sunday night, the mayor of Norfolk County said 120 workers at a local farm have tested positive for COVID-19, with seven of them having been admitted to hospital.

"We have always understood that this was a risk that our community could face and our health unit has been preparing for this possibility," Kristal Chopp said in a statement. "Other communities in Ontario and across the country have also faced similar situations with on-farm outbreaks."

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit said over the weekend that 85 migrant workers were affected and the Mexican government liaison had been notified.

The health unit said it was working with the farm, owned by Scotlynn Group, and its clinical staff was developing a plan to evaluate and monitor symptomatic workers.

The company said in a statement that it had executed an isolation plan to stop the spread of the virus. It also said with a large number of workers not available, it was looking for additional help with an asparagus harvest.

Last month, advocates for migrant workers said the province should ramp up inspections of the farms and the bunkhouses workers live in.

Ford said the province may have to consider making changes to the communal nature of the bunkhouses in the future, but it would be hard to take that action during the pandemic.

"It's something we can put on the table," he said. "Can we do it in within a month or so? I just don't think that's reality. But what we can do, we can go in and test frequently. I think it's critical that we do."

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