Ontario Food Terminal vendors call for on-site COVID-19 vaccinations amid outbreak

The largest fruit and vegetable distribution facility in Canada has been the scene of a COVID-19 outbreak in the past two weeks.

There were 24 confirmed workplace infections on Friday morning at the Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke, according to Toronto Public Health.

The terminal is and has remained 24-hour, 365-day operations throughout the pandemic, supplying products to 5,000 companies in Ontario and many more across the continent alone, with approximately one million trucks entering and leaving annually.

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With traffic like this, Larry Davidson, president of in-house retailer North American Produce Buyers, believes the terminal should be hailed as a success.

“This place has been operating for the past, let’s call it 14 months … either in a near-virus-free or in a very low-virus condition,” said Davidson, praising the board of directors who run the facility.

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“Of course now, with the variants… that makes it even more difficult [to stop the spread] also with masks, also with a distance. “

Despite the successful safeguards, Davidson said there have been sporadic cases over time and noted that he and many of his employees tested positive over the past year.

In Davidson’s case, he even took it home and infected his daughter and wife. He fears that if something is not done soon, this scenario will unfold in the homes of many other food terminal workers.

“That’s why we’re pushing for a vaccination clinic to be set up here,” he said.

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The province previously announced plans to set up on-site vaccine clinics in Ontario’s major workplaces, which health officials said are highly likely to spread the virus. Employers would pay to run the clinics and the province would provide the syringes. Companies like Amazon and Maple Leaf Foods will host such clinics at their facilities in the Peel region next week.

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Davidson said food terminal officials looked into and even offered to expand availability for neighborhood residents, but were told the facility is currently not eligible because their postcode, M8Y, is not in any of 114 of the Province designated hotspots falls.

While this may be true, Davidson points out that many workers there live in these zones.

“These are frontline workers. I’ve been told that over 60 percent of the primaries of the people who (work) down here fall in the high risk zones … My boys here in their 20s and 30s working to support families that live in multiple cities -generational households that Those who are here six days a week to rip their butts, use public transport, and make sure food is on grocery store shelves must be vaccinated, ”he said.

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He knows that many of them can be vaccinated in their own local clinics, but Davidson fears that many of them will struggle to find confusing information in order to locate clinics and then have trouble booking convenient appointments.

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Starting Friday, Toronto and Peel Public Health expanded their powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to allow them to close or change shifts in whole or in part at some companies with confirmed outbreaks of five or more COVID-19 cases in the past 14 years Days. However, the food terminal should not be affected. It’s too important for grocers and restaurants already struggling to make ends meet with takeaway and delivery, and again, for the average Ontarian.

“If you shut it down, you would have a lot of food shortages in restaurants and grocery stores,” said James Rilett, vice president, central Canada, Restaurants Canada.

“You would also see a lot of food waste as it is the only place (for) many farmers that they sell their food.”

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It is this duality that his co-workers are told they are important while being told that their job is not currently suitable for a vaccine clinic, which Davidson is so frustrated with.

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“If you need food and it’s a priority and we’re doing everything we can to keep the place open, it doesn’t make sense that they couldn’t set up a clinic,” he said.

It seems that his advocacy could soon pay off.

In an email to Global News late Friday afternoon, a spokesman for the attorney general’s ministry said the province was working on a solution.

“The Ontario Food Terminal is a unique Ontario government asset and its employees and vendors are vital to the provincial food supply chain,” said the spokesman.

“We’re working with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ontario Food Terminal Board to set up a vaccine clinic at the food terminal as soon as supplies allow. We will soon have more to say about this initiative. “

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