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Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, the acting medical officer of health for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) stunned the horticultural industry on January 11 with an order barring entry to temporary foreign workers (TFWs) into Essex County until February 1, 2022.  Three days later, he rescinded the order.

The unprecedented situation was resolved with local, provincial and federal leaders in the healthcare, agricultural and social service communities to establish the level of support necessary to meet health requirements for TFWs who are isolating or in recovery from COVID-19. However, the disruption to greenhouse and nursery growers would have been considerable given the timing of the crucial planting season.

“This was a complete surprise,” says Aaron Coristine, manager of science, regulatory affairs and government relations, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, based in Leamington. “The damages would have been extensive.”

About 900 TFWs were already in the area, with several hundred more workers expected to land by end of January through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the Ag Stream. It’s unknown to what degree flight arrangements were cancelled. Many of these workers would have been in transit from remote regions to Mexico City or Kingston, Jamaica. 

In his rationale for announcing the original order on January 11, Dr. Nesathurai cited a “significant number of outbreaks at agricultural enterprises” and that the community had “limited capacity to manage the surge occurring with the introduction of the Omicron variant.” He was referring to lack of resources to house and isolate workers who might test positive.

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