Ontario mulls changes to sick pay, as Toronto, Peel to shutter workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks

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The Ontario government says it is considering a paid-sick-day policy for essential workers, an idea it has rejected for months, while Toronto and Peel Region issued orders that would shut down workplaces after COVID-19 outbreaks.

Health experts in the province are adamant that these measures could slow the spread of the pandemic in crowded warehouses and factories. Toronto and Peel say their new shutdown orders are needed as more-contagious variants have exacerbated the pandemic’s third wave.

The change in approach on sick days, the latest in a series for the government of Premier Doug Ford, transpired the same day the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table issued a rebuke of Ontario’s recently announced pandemic measures. The group called for shutting non-essential workplaces and providing emergency sick pay for people who cannot work from home.

Mr. Ford has previously accused those demanding sick pay of “playing politics.” But Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday that because the federal government had failed to enhance its sick-leave program in its Monday budget, the province was now “considering our alternatives.” Critics have said the federal program does not offer enough compensation at $500 a week and is subject to delays.

Neither Ms. Elliott nor Labour Minister Monte McNaughton would offer any firm commitments or details on what the provincial government is contemplating.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that with so many essential workers in intensive care, the government needs to admit it was wrong. Liberal MPP John Fraser accused Mr. Ford of “gross negligence” and repeated calls for him to step down.

Late Tuesday night, Mr. Ford’s office said the Premier had tested negative for COVID-19 but was isolating after coming into contact with a staffer on Monday who has subsequently tested positive. Other staffers are also self-isolating.

Mr. Ford, who has not spoken publicly since Friday, has faced a backlash since announcing a series of new COVID-19 measures last week that baffled experts. They warned that the government was doing too little to stop the virus from growing exponentially and overwhelming hospital intensive-care units.

While public-health experts called for more measures to stop rampant workplace transmission of the virus, Mr. Ford instead announced new pandemic powers for police, which forces across the province quickly said they would not use.

He also announced a ban on outdoor activities that included the closing of playgrounds, which critics said runs counter to scientific advice. After an outcry, the government watered down the police powers and reopened slides and climbers – but left other measures in place. B.C. also announced new police powers recently to discourage recreational travel but said there would not be random spot checks.