Northern Manitoba MP Niki Ashton has written a letter to Vale asking them to reconsider a plan to use an exemption from Manitoba public health orders to allow some contractors from eastern Canada to report to work in Thompson without self-isolating for 14 days beforehand.
“As we prepare for a potential second wave, bringing in outside contractors from regions with high infection rates without any self-isolation requirements is the exact opposite of what we should be doing,” said Ashton, NDP MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, in her letter. “Thompson is the hub of an interconnected north. If COVID-19 spreads in Thompson, it will have disastrous effects on all of us. It is not acceptable to put all our hard work at risk in pursuit of your bottom line.”
Tara Ritchie of Vale Manitoba Operations said the company may use exemptions from public health orders to bring in contractors from Ontario and further east without requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in Manitoba. The exemption would be used on a limited, case-by-case basis, she said, for contractors coming to perform work related to the annual summer maintenance shutdown of the company’s operations in Thompson.
These workers must receive a medical screening and clearance before coming to Thompson and will also have to conduct a daily self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms, practise physical distancing, wear a non-medical face mask, self-isolate in their accommodations when not at work and adhere to all requirements from the provincial government and Vale, said Ritchie.
Manitoba public health orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic no longer require out-of-province visitors from Western Canada or northwestern Ontario west of Terrace Bay to self-isolate upon arriving in Manitoba if they have not travelled outside of those regions in the previous two weeks and are not displaying COVID-19 symptoms. People engaged in the construction or maintenance of critical infrastructure in Manitoba, including water control works, are exempt from the 14-day self-isolation period if they are not displaying symptoms.
Warren Luky, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6166, which represents more than 500 hourly workers at Vale Manitoba Operations, says bringing in contractors from Ontario and other eastern provinces poses some risk, even with screening protocols in place.
“Anytime you bring in people from out of town, no matter the screening and stuff, it’s never foolproof,” he said. “It’ll put our community at a little bit of risk unfortunately for the shutdown.”
Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook told the Thompson Citizen following the July 13 council meeting that the city was briefed on Vale’s plans and said she believes they have adopted appropriate screening protocols. She said bringing in people from outside Manitoba was of some concern, as Thompson has been lucky to not have any positive tests for COVID-19 so far, but that she understands the need to gradually reopen the province and its economy.
There hasn’t been a positive test for COVID-19 north of the 53rd parallel in Manitoba since April 8.
Five positive tests for the virus – two in each of the Winnipeg and southern health regions and one in the Interlake-Eastman health region – were reported by the provincial government July 14, the first new cases in the province since the end of June.