Ontario Premier Doug Ford is apologizing for “misinformation” after he accused migrant workers of hiding from COVID-19 tests.
Mr. Ford on Friday said he wanted to correct the record a day after telling the public that workers on a farm with a large outbreak in Windsor-Essex county were not co-operating with the province’s efforts to retest them for COVID-19.
“I did receive misinformation and I’m a true believer, when there is misinformation you stand up here, you apologize and you move forward,” Mr. Ford said at Queen’s Park on Friday.
“Nothing burns me up more than if I get misinformation. I tell the people. It’s my duty to come out here and set the record straight.”
Mr. Ford did not explain on Friday who gave him the wrong information, and he did not specify which farm he was talking about. He said he spoke with one farmer – whom he called an “incredible person” – and referenced 182 people getting tested. A spokeswoman for the Premier’s office said Mr. Ford was referring to comments he made Thursday in which he said only three or four of the farm’s 190 workers were retested for COVID-19, when in fact, they all have been.
Although provincial officials, including Mr. Ford, have so far refused to name the farm at the centre of an outbreak in Windsor-Essex, two sources have confirmed to The Globe and Mail that it is Nature Fresh Farms in Leamington. The Leamington and Kingsville areas are the only parts of the province that remain in Stage 1 of Ontario’s reopening plan because of outbreaks on farms.
The medical officer of health in Windsor-Essex, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, issued an order Wednesday requiring that all employees at Nature Fresh Farms stop working and isolate. The Leamington vegetable greenhouse has at least 191 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the overwhelming majority of them migrant workers.
More than 950 migrant farm workers in Ontario have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Globe and Mail tally of local public-health units. Roughly 10 per cent of all workers in the Southwestern Ontario area who have been tested for the virus have had positive results. Three men from Mexico have died.
Mr. Ford said at his press briefing on Thursday that some workers ran away and hid from public-health officials visiting the farm to swab them, and that he needs “the co-operation of workers.”
“We’re Canada, we aren’t in some Third World nation that you have to run from the authorities. We’re here to help you, not to hurt you,” Mr. Ford said at the time.
Michael Janisse, a spokesman for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, said Thursday he was unsure what the Premier was referring to, but confirmed “we have had workers refuse to be tested.”
NDP MPP Taras Natyshak, who represents Essex, said Mr. Ford has continued to blame others for his failure to protect migrant workers. He challenged the Premier to visit Essex this weekend to “see for himself the living and working conditions migrant workers experience with his own eyes.”
“Ford must deploy the full resources and the full powers of the provincial government without any more delays. This is a public health emergency, and we need to save lives and protect the people of Windsor-Essex,” Mr. Natyshak said in a statement.
The Premier said Friday that Emergency Management Ontario, which helps respond to emergencies in the province, has been deployed to the Windsor-Essex area, along with the Red Cross and officials from Ontario Health and Public Health. He said two supervisors from EMO are currently on the ground.
“It’s all hands on deck down there,” Mr. Ford said.
Dr. Dirk Huyer, the province’s chief coroner who is helping to lead the province’s effort to test asymptomatic people in high-risk groups, said EMO and the provincial Emergency Operations Centre are helping to co-ordinate an urgent response to the outbreaks.
“The team is providing support for the workers from the one farm, where there was the notable number of positive COVID findings, as well as those who may have been in contact with those positive workers,” Dr. Huyer said.
“The EMO is helping to co-ordinate, to make sure that the workers have the best care, the best housing, the best accommodation, food and support.”
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