Anger, frustration over continued closures, mayor of Leamington, Ont., says

The mayor of one of Ontario’s last communities still locked down due to COVID-19 says small businesses are being driven to bankruptcy.

Hilda MacDonald, mayor of Leamington, Ont., says she is “livid” tight restrictions remain on her community and in neighbouring Kingsville, Ont.

Premier Doug Ford says the two communities in southwestern Ontario will stay in Stage 1 until coronavirus outbreaks on farms can be addressed and case counts lowered.

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MacDonald says her community received no warning about the decision to let the rest of Windsor-Essex proceed to Stage 2.

She says the province needs a more co-ordinated approach to battling the virus and the lack of cohesion at the provincial level is holding her community back.

In Windsor, some businesses like hair salons and restaurant patios have begun reopening.

Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday that most of the region of Windsor-Essex would be allowed to move into Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan on Thursday after originally being held back due to COVID-19 farm outbreaks.

The only exceptions are the communities of Leamington and Kingsville, which have seen large numbers of cases among migrant workers.

Ford said he has a plan to address the situation on farms, while also allowing COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic workers to continue on the job, with safety protocols in place.

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“This is one of (farmers’) busiest times of the year,” Ford said. “They need the extra help and unlike other professions, most of it is outdoors and isolated.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said testing of migrant workers found a cluster of asymptomatic positive people. Dr. David Williams is recommending that such workers can continue working away from (non-infected) others, as well as sleeping away from their coworkers.

The province is increasing inspections of farms this week, including the migrant workers’ living conditions — in partnership with the federal government, as Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said the province doesn’t have jurisdiction over the bunkhouses.

Ford said his plan to control farm outbreaks includes expanding testing and reassuring workers they won’t face negative consequences if they test positive.

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“No one will lose their job if you have COVID-19,” he said. “No one will be sent home if you have COVID-19 and if you test positive for COVID-19 and you need to self-isolate for 14 days, you will be eligible for (workplace safety and insurance benefits).”

Workers who have been here previously and have a social insurance number may also be eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Ford said.

Windsor’s mayor said this week that the high number of COVID-19 cases on farms in Essex County was holding back the entire region, and the local economy could not face another week of delay in reopening.

— with files from The Canadian Press’ Allison Jones.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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