The travel restrictions implemented by the Canadian government on Monday and Wednesday last week almost had dire consequences for the food security of the country. Luckily, the government responded quickly to concerns brought up by farmers and farm owners and remedied a potentially catastrophic situation.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic and in response, the Public Health Agency of Canada has recommended that travelers avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada. Further, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced some sweeping travel restrictions on Monday March 16 at a press conference outside Rideau Cottage, with new exemptions being made rapidly as the situation changes.
Starting Wednesday, March 18, all international visitors to Canada were to be turned around at the airport, with the exception of Americans, diplomats and flight crews. However, the land border between Canada and the U.S. closed to all non-essential travel at midnight Friday, March 20.
“We will be denying entry to Canada to people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents,” said Trudeau, who added that anyone coming back to the country needs to self-isolate for 14 days.
These restrictions are aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Canada and are therefore a necessary and an immediate step the federal government had to take. However, they may have unintended consequences on the security of the nation’s food supply.
According to Bill George, chair of Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, limiting foreign visitors to the country during the pandemic is also cutting off farms from a vital supply of migrant workers, without whom Ontario growers can’t produce food.
“If we sort this out over the next day or so, we should be all right,” said George in an interview on Tuesday March 17. “But if this stretches on for two or three weeks, then it will be a serious problem and crops simply won’t be planted.”
The lockdown announced by Prime Minister Trudeau on Monday meant that about 13,000 workers, largely from Central America, who were expected to arrive at Ontario farms in the coming weeks and months won’t be able to get into the country. These workers are usually experienced agricultural workers who plant and tend crops in vineyards, greenhouses and farms.
“8,000 workers are already here and waves of the other 13,000 were set to start in the next few weeks,” said George. “They have been a linchpin in Ontario agriculture for decades and there is no domestic workforce that can replace them. Without them, you will see a real impact on Ontario-grown fruits and vegetables.”
According to George, his and other associations have been engaged in discussions with Ottawa for the past few days to try to find a solution, which resulted in the government announcing that exemptions to that rule will apply to foreign nationals who have already committed to working, studying or making Canada their home.
Travel by temporary foreign workers will also be considered essential travel for land border restrictions and the exemptions will apply to seasonal agricultural workers, fish-seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers.
As a necessary precaution, these workers will face health screening before travel and must be isolated for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada.
“Today’s announcement will ensure both a robust response to addressing the spread of the virus, and that our farmers, fishers and other producers have the workers they need, when they need them, to strengthen Canada’s food security and provide other vital services,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in a release.
The situation is changing rapidly, so for the most up to date information on travel bans and restrictions, visit the ‘latest travel health advice’ page on Canada.ca.
Information on the coronavirus is available via The Brock Press or at www.publichealthontario.ca. Telehealth can be contacted at 1-866-797-0000 while Niagara Public Health can be contacted at 905-980-6000 or 1-800-263-7215 toll free.