Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended his three-day sick leave program at a virtual news conference Friday held while in isolation after experts with the province’s science advisory table blatantly said it was not enough curb the spread of COVID-19.
The science table presented the latest COVID-19 modelling data on Thursday. The data showed that without stronger measures such as “effective sick pay,” a further shortlist of essential workplaces, lower mobility and more vaccinations, daily cases would remain above 2,000 in June and the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care could remain around the 800 mark throughout the next month.
If those measures were put in place, case numbers could drop below 1,000 in that time frame and ICU admissions could decline to about 500 patients.
When asked by reporters on Thursday whether the government’s program would be enough to lead to the best case scenario of less than 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases, Ontario Science Table Co-Chair Dr. Adalsteinn Brown replied simply by saying “No.”
“We’ve modeled the strong, effective sick pay as beginning immediately, lasting for essentially two work weeks—so 10 days—and being at a level that allows people to not have to make difficult choices,” Brown added.
“It’s a good start, but it doesn’t reflect the assumptions that we’ve made based on the programs we’ve seen elsewhere.”
On Friday, Ford said that while he “appreciates” the science table, he also listens to the advice of other medical advisors and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The Ford government’s sick leave program, which will give employees three days of paid emergency leave during COVID-1, passed the legislature Thursday. His government has previously described the plan as “the most comprehensive plan in the entire country” and the best in North America.
Employees using these paid sick days will receive up to $200 per day. Business owners will be reimbursed through the Workplace Safety Insurance Board, for a total of $600 for all three days.
The government said it is also working with the federal government to “double up” payments to the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) from $500 to $1,000 per week before taxes. The CRSB is only available for four weeks and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to agree or express interest to Ontario’s plan.
“That’s not something that the federal government can deliver, with the exception of federally regulated industries,” Trudeau said Friday of Ontario’s bid to double the CRSB.
Despite that fact, Ford spent most of Friday saying that his sick leave plan offers workers up to $4,600, instead of the $600 his provincial legislation promises.
“We want to double up with the federal government’s doing, we’re filling the gap and the totals up to $4,600 and I think that’s fair for a lot of people to get them over the hump.”
FORD BLAMES TRAVEL FOR WORKPLACE OUTBREAKS
Ford also spent much of the news conference blaming travel for the spread of COVID-19 variants in Ontario, even going so far as to say that workplace spread of the disease could be attributed to land border crossings.
“As for the workplace, where these variants coming in, well, the variants within the workplace … are coming from the borders,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of people are trying to buck the system and walk across the border, and they don’t have to quarantine. You can’t have two sets of rules. You can’t have a set of rules for the people who are flying into the airport and another totally set of rules at the land border.”
The premier has been calling for a slew of travel-related restrictions over the last week, including pre-departure COVID-19 tests for domestic travellers, a further ban on non-essential travel, a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine program for land borders and a suspension of the arrival international students.
The science table has not attributed workplace outbreaks to travel, instead saying that workplace mobility has not declined during the stay-at-home order.
The premier has been working while self-isolating for the past 10 days after coming into close contact with a staffer who tested positive for COVID-19.
At the time, his office said that Ford had tested negative for the disease and will be following the guidance of Toronto Public Health. A spokesperson reiterated on Thursday that the premier “is in good health, symptom free and expects to be out of isolation early next week as per public health guidelines.”