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29 Dec, 2021 00:31

Covid-positive health workers may stay on job, Canadian province rules

Infected healthcare employees to continue working amid “critical” staffing shortages
Covid-positive health workers may stay on job, Canadian province rules

Some “essential” workers who come down with Covid-19 in Quebec, Canada will be permitted to remain on the job, the province’s health minister said, citing an “urgent” need for healthcare staff amid a surge in cases.

Quebec’s most senior health official, Christian Dube, told reporters on Tuesday the government’s hand had been forced in taking the decision to allow some infected employees to continue working under certain conditions “according to a list of priority and risk management.”

“If we had the choice, we wouldn’t do it, but our situation is urgent and critical in the short term,” Dube said. “This is the best alternative to not providing care.”

“The reality is that we have more and more sick people and fewer and fewer nursing staff. This is what we have to do if we want our society to continue to safely function,” he added.

Public health director Horacio Arruda explained that the Health Ministry had created an order of priority to help employers determine which workers to keep on the job and which to send home. A health staffer with no symptoms, or an individual whose family had tested positive but who hadn’t yet received their own result, could be stationed in an area with Covid-positive patients, Arruda said, citing an example. However, he added, “If someone’s not in good shape, we won’t send them to work. 

Canada’s second-most populous province Quebec has seen a new wave of infections with the rise of the Omicron strain – the latest variant of concern designated by the World Health Organization. The region has set new records in recent days, recording nearly 13,000 new cases on Monday alone – the highest single-day tally for any province in Canada, according to Reuters.

The spike in cases has put pressure on local health facilities, Dube said, adding that “Omicron’s contagion is so exponential that a huge number of personnel have had to be withdrawn – and that poses a risk to the network capacity to treat Quebecers.”

In addition to the more permissive guidelines for “essential” employees, the health minister announced that Quebec would offer a third coronavirus vaccine dose to anyone aged 18 or older from January 4. 

While provincial officials had previously weighed up introducing a vaccine mandate for health workers in line with similar policies brought in across Canada, it decided against it due to staffing shortages. Ontario has been the only province to follow that move, also pointing to labor shortfalls. 

Quebec has taken other actions in recent days to stem the spread of Omicron, ordering the closure of gyms, casinos, and bars, and limiting the size of allowable gatherings to just six people.