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Ontario’s New Democrats are calling on the provincial government to establish a permanent 10-day paid sick leave program, saying it would help limit the spread of monkeypox and other infectious diseases.

NDP legislator Kristyn Wong-Tam said the isolation recommendation for those who are sick with monkeypox can be 21 days or potentially longer.

She said the government should introduce a permanent program to allow workers to take 10 paid sick days for infectious diseases and 14 additional sick days during public health emergencies.

Wong-Tam said paid sick days for those infected with monkeypox will help support the health system, which has been strained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The rates of (monkeypox) infection are going up,” she said in a news conference on Tuesday. “This is why we’re raising the alarm bells that we cannot take any chances of staying quiet.”

Ontario currently has a pandemic program offering workers three days of paid sick leave for COVID-19-related absences like testing, vaccination, isolation or caring for relatives who are ill with the virus. The government recently extended that program to the end of March 2023.

Public Health Ontario reported 288 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the province as of July 21, most of which are located in Toronto.

Public health officials say most cases are among men who report intimate contact with men but say anyone can get monkeypox.

Wong-Tam said the spread of monkeypox is affecting the lives of her constituents in Toronto.

“Church and Wellesley Village was at the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and saw immense damage to main street businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said, referring to Toronto’s gay village.

“The last thing local small businesses need is another pandemic. In refusing, again, to provide adequate and permanent paid sick days to Ontarians in the face of the growing public health emergency of monkeypox, (Premier Doug) Ford is failing to protect people’s health.”

Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency on Saturday. The organization’s director general said the disease has spread to more than 70 countries.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said the city had administered about 11,000 monkeypox vaccine shots as of Tuesday.

She said interest in vaccination increased after the World Health Organization declared the illness a global health emergency.

“I can appreciate why people are interested and more interested, perhaps, those who are at risk, in receiving that vaccine,” she said at an unrelated news conference on Tuesday.

De Villa said Toronto Public Health is following up with close contacts to manage spread of the disease and working with community partners to share information with people who are at highest risk of exposure.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, recently said monkeypox will likely be around for “many months” because of its lengthy incubation period.

The virus generally doesn’t spread easily and is transmitted through prolonged close contact via respiratory droplets, direct contact with skin lesions or bodily fluids, or through contaminated clothes or bedding.

Common symptoms include rash, oral and genital lesions and swollen lymph nodes.

The monkeypox disease comes from the same family of viruses that cause smallpox, which the World Health Organization declared eradicated around the globe in 1980. Smallpox vaccines have proven effective in combatting the monkeypox virus.

With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter.

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