No quarantine for Quebec fruit pickers
By Lyonel Doherty
Fruit pickers from Quebec travelling to Oliver and Osoyoos this summer will not be quarantined or self-isolated when they arrive.
That’s the word from local authorities.
A question has been raised in the community whether or not transient farm workers from a high-risk COVID-19 area should be quarantined when they get here.
The fact is temporary foreign workers from Mexico must be quarantined for 14 days, as well as B.C. workers from the Kearl Lake oil sands project in Alberta, where a coronavirus outbreak occurred recently.
But Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson said Quebecers are Canadians who are not arriving from a foreign country.
She noted the workers at Kearl Lake were in a camp with identified COVID-19 cases, so they had contact with the virus and have to quarantine.
Larson said the Loose Bay campground plans to open May 1 with all of the proper health protocols in place.
“We need to look at this group as a large ‘family’ who can live with each other. Until there is an identified outbreak of the virus in this group, there is no legal reason to interfere with them.”
The Ministry of Health said there is currently no order relating to self-isolation following inter-provincial travel.
“The provincial health officer issues orders upon identifying risk to the public requiring intervention,” the ministry said.
Related to Kearl Lake, considering the number of British Columbians directly connected to a declared outbreak, the health officer has ordered those employees to self-isolate upon returning to B.C.
Area C (rural Oliver) director Rick Knodel likened the transients from Quebec to tourists that come here for the Easter weekend.
“Like any other citizen who comes here, local government has no authority to single them out and demand they quarantine or stay in any particular location.”
Knodel stated these farm workers must be treated the same way as any person who decides to travel around B.C.
“Local government will do what it has authority over to make this as safe as we can for both the transient workers and the residents inside of the laws we have to work to.”
The director said rural Oliver is fortunate to have Loose Bay to accommodate transient workers.
“Make no mistake, these people are free citizens and governed by the same laws as you and I.”
Once Loose Bay is open for business, there will be strict health protocols in place, such as physical distancing, enhanced cleaning procedures and adequate wash stations.
Local MP Richard Cannings said he understands people’s concern about having farm workers here from the hardest hit COVID-19 province in the country. However, they are essential workers, he pointed out.
Cannings said while there are provincial health protocols for agricultural workers being accommodated in camps, it is unclear if the same rules apply to Quebec fruit pickers in Oliver and Osoyoos.
Farm worker Alix Longland from Vernon said she totally understands residents’ concerns considering the number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec.
“The idea of a large migration of individuals from Quebec can be seen as terrifying, especially in towns where there is a higher population of older people that are more at risk.”
But as long as safety concerns for both farm workers and locals are addressed by preventive measures, the South Okanagan can be protected from an outbreak, Longland said.
She stated the big issue for Quebec farm workers is the lack of housing and infrastructure here, which prompts them to spend much of their free time in shady parks for protection from the heat.
While she noted that social distancing is a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is “superficial” compared to the housing issue.