(Eric Foss/CBC - image credit)
The head of a seafood processing industry group in the Maritimes is happy Ottawa is deferring hotel quarantine requirements for temporary foreign workers in the agriculture and seafood sectors, but much is still up in the air.
On Friday, the federal government announced those workers would be exempt from having to isolate in hotel rooms before being allowed to carry on to their final destination. The exemption extends to March 14. Workers are still required to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive at their final destination.
While Nat Richard, executive director of the Moncton, N.B.-based Lobster Processors Association, called it a "welcome announcement," he said there are still a lot of unknowns.
"The reality is the bulk of our workers in our lobster processing facilities would be coming to the region after that date, obviously, in anticipation of the start of the spring fishery on May 1," he said.
"We continue to be quite vigilant in terms of what requirements we'll have to meet after this period as well. But it's a welcome change."
The deferral of quarantine rules for temporary foreign workers will allow time for the development of "tailored solutions" to accommodate a large volume of temporary foreign workers in the coming weeks, Marielle Hossack, spokesperson for the office of Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, said in an email.
"In the interim, temporary foreign workers entering Canada will go to their usual place of quarantine provided by their employer under existing quarantine rules," the email said.
Since Feb. 3, all international flights into Canada are only landing in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.
As of Feb. 22, there are heightened restrictions for people entering Canada. Air travellers landing in Canada will have to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel in the city of their arrival, at their own expense, as they await the results of a polymerase chain reaction test for COVID-19.
Those who test negative will be able to finish their quarantine at home or somewhere else approved by officials. Those who test positive will be taken to a federal quarantine facility.
Hossack said temporary foreign workers will still be tested on arrival to Canada, but will be able to go directly to their destinations to do the 14-day self-isolation there. They will also be tested during their quarantine period.
Richard would like to see Ottawa make the change permanent and allow for charter flights to bring foreign workers to airports other than the four designated points of entry for air travellers.
"We remain hopeful that we can find an accommodation that will satisfy both the public health considerations — which obviously are paramount here — but also the needs of the sector as well," he said.
Richard estimates about 2,500 temporary foreign workers arrive in the Maritimes each year to work in fish processing plants.
Meanwhile, Hossack said the federal government is working with all provinces and territories on the temporary foreign worker program.
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