By MPP Toby Barrett    

Anyone who reads or watches the big city news will know Haldimand and Norfolk, over many months, have had the dubious notoriety of going above and beyond Ontario policy on COVID-19.

More recently the local mayors yet again garnered headlines, and caught the eye of Queen’s Park, with the announced reversal – known as a flip flop in the corridors of the Legislative Assembly – of caution by opposing the provincial directive that our two municipalities not progress to stage 2 reopening.

In spite of the sacrifice and patient compliance of people living across our two counties, Haldimand-Norfolk has now garnered yet another dubious distinction of having, at time of writing, 406 positive cases of COVID-19 within our population of 110,000 – 164 cases have been found on a farm.

By way of contrast, Brantford/Brant County has 117 positive cases, while St. Thomas/Elgin/Oxford has 77.

The 164 positive cases on the Norfolk farm was the tipping point for the provincial decision to pause further reopening in our public health region.

Farm labour in Haldimand-Norfolk is treated differently, with increased restrictions, than anywhere else in Canada. The local farm outbreak is one of the largest in Canada, and I have asked the Ministers of Labour, Health and Agriculture to continue investigating why this was allowed to happen.

In May, the governments of Canada and Ontario invested up to $2.25 million to help farmers better protect employees and ensure the continued supply of healthy food. Implemented through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the federal and provincial governments launched the second intake of the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program to help farmers enhance health and safety measures. The funding was for initiatives like purchasing personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning and disinfection.

 As part of our framework for reopening Ontario, we made it clear decisions to move into stage 2 would be based on public health criteria being met locally, including virus spread and containment along with local health system capacity and incidence tracking capacity. My office hears inquiries as to why the local health unit is not reporting cases in the same manner as other jurisdictions.

Following a thorough analysis of the most up-to-date public health data, and the decisions made on which public health regions would move forward, all local medical officers of health were contacted and all decisions were made on the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

As of Friday, June 12, Ontario increased the limit on social gatherings from five to 10 people across the province, regardless of whether a public health region has moved to stage 2 reopening. Additionally, all places of worship are permitted to open with physical distancing in place and attendance limited to no more than 30 per cent of the building capacity.

Since the first positive case of coronavirus in Ontario on January 25th, the health of the people of Ontario has been top priority. That doesn’t change.  After more than four months dealing with this highly contagious disease, people and their workplaces and institutions are knowledgeable and have demonstrated they’ll do what it takes to fight COVID-19. Over 100 guidance documents are available to businesses on how to operate safely.

Haldimand-Norfolk remains at stage 1 presently. The province will reassess our local public health indicators on an ongoing basis to determine moving to stage 2.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk