Governments increase controls, restrict movements as COVID-19 crisis intensifies

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

As the COVID-19 pandemic crisis intensifies, and reported illnesses and deaths increase by the day, governments are setting increasingly stringent movement and work restrictions.

Although Ontario’s provincial government considers most construction work as essential (in the residential and industrial/commercial/institutional sectors), as this issue of Ontario Construction News was published, Premier Doug Ford – in part following the recommendations of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health – is contemplating more severe restrictions. These could much more narrowly define the types of construction work that are exempt from “stay at home” orders.

Quebec already has banned most construction work in that province. On Wednesday, police set up checkpoints at the bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau, restricting traffic to residents with essential business in the province.

The Quebec police checkpoints have created challenges for many tradespeople who routinely cross from Western Quebec to Eastern Ontario to work on commercial projects and home building sites in Ontario.  This work is considered “essential” in Ontario, but not Quebec.

“The focus is on stopping Ontarians from shopping and using tourist spots like Wakefield, the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) wrote in a memo to its members. “However, we are concerned that this will discourage trades living in Quebec from making the trip to jobsites in Ottawa.

Both the Ottawa Construction Association (OCA) and the GOHBA have written employer letters to help Quebec-based workers to pass the police checkpoints.

“According to our friends at (the) OCA, Quebec police have advised one construction company that workers can use a letter from their employer to facilitate their return home at night,” the GOHBA wrote. “This letter should confirm that the individual is working in Ontario on a construction site that is deemed an ‘essential workplace’.

The bilingual letter template for police checkpoints includes a space to identify the worker’s name with this message:

“As part of the Ontario Emergency Measures regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario Government issued an order calling construction work and services in the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors as ESSENTIAL WORKPLACES.

“As this employee resides in Quebec but works in Ontario, we believe they should be able to travel across the provincial borders without contravening to the Ministerial Order 2020-013 of the Minister of Health and Social Services.”

Despite this communication, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, and municipal officials in Ontario’s largest city have set even more stringent stay-at-home expectations, including urging city residents to restrict grocery shopping trips to once a week.

On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford indicated provincial officials would be narrowing the essential workplaces” list.

“That’s being reviewed absolutely every day,” he said at a press conference. “We’re going to be adjusting that list. You’ll hear that in the next day or so.”

Ford said his government is going to do “everything (it) can to reduce that list.”

Thousands have signed a petition asking for tighter definitions of “essential workplaces” for construction workers, but several industry associations and some unions say that sites can be maintained safely and should not be closed.

Meanwhile, one Toronto construction site has been closed because a worker tested positive for COVID-19

A spokesperson for Aquicon Construction told CTV News that the individual last worked on the site, located on Bathurst Street south of Sheppard Avenue, on March 17. The worker began to show symptoms on March 24 and tested positive for the virus on March 26, the Aquicon spokesperson said.

“We want to be clear, we do not believe that the individual had been on site when the virus was contracted,” the company said. “Aquicon has and is taking every possible measure to ensure everyone on all our sites is safe and is being protected. We have adopted several precautionary actions which are above and beyond those being mandated by the government and its agencies.”

In its statement, the company said: “All individuals who had been in contact with the site were advised of the situation through email and or phone call so that they could be quarantined and monitored to prevent any potential spread of the virus. Currently, no one who has been in contact with the site is showing any symptoms.”

The building, as well as all common areas such as washrooms, hallways and stairwells, have been disinfected and sanitized, the company added. The construction site will re-open after a 14-day period from the date where the worker was last on site.

Earlier in the week, the provincial government announced further measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 on construction sites. These measures include providing better on-site sanitization, staggering shifts to ensure greater distances, and monitoring sites to ensure public health practices.

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