Outbreak at Ontario meat plant linked to U.K. variant
Cases rise as traveller testing takes effect in Ontario
By Holly McKenzie-Sutter
TORONTO — Public health authorities reported more cases of a contagious variant of COVID-19 in Ontario on Monday as a mandatory traveler testing program aimed at limiting the spread of the virus took effect at Toronto’s airport.
York Region, north of Toronto, confirmed it had recorded 39 total cases of the U.K. variant of COVID-19 as of Monday. While the majority are now resolved, the municipality said there are 24 households associated with the cases, and 10 were spread through “local transmission.”
“We are very concerned about the U.K. variant in circulation within York Region; it is important to curb this COVID-19 variant spread as quickly as we can,” communications director Patrick Casey said in a statement.
Toronto Public Health reported Monday that it had linked two U.K. variant cases to an outbreak at a meat processing facility that has infected 78 people.
“At this time, there is no indication that any cases identified in the outbreak had recently travelled or had contact with a person who travelled recently,” the health unit said in a statement.
It said Belmont Meats voluntarily closed on Jan. 28 amid the public health investigation.
69 cases in province
As of Sunday, Public Health Ontario had confirmed 69 total cases of the U.K. variant in the province, though regional officials have said they believe the number is likely much higher.
Meanwhile, mayors and chairs of the largest Toronto and Hamilton-area municipalities acknowledged the new traveller testing rules that kicked in Monday.
“Having called for these measures, we appreciate these new rules and restrictions being initiated in the cause of encouraging people to stay home and limiting the arrival of the virus or the variants from outside the country,” the group said in a statement.
The testing order that took effect at the Toronto airport Monday will eventually apply to the province’s land border crossings to the United States.
It’s similar to a federal plan set to be implemented in the near future. Premier Doug Ford said Ontario would conduct its own traveller testing until Ottawa’s program kicked in.
“We need to screen every single person who’s coming into the country and into Ontario for these new variants for the sake of our long-term care homes, schools and hospitals,” Ford said in an online statement Sunday.
Evan Rachkovsky, a spokesman for the Canadian Snowbird Association that represents about 110,000 people, said his group supports mandatory COVID-19 tests but is concerned about the fine print in the federal government’s stricter rules.
“We are absolutely supportive of the provinces and the federal government implementing testing at land borders and at airports,” Rachkovsky said in a phone interview.
He said many of the more than 30,000 group members currently abroad are anxious for more details of the federal plan — in particular, the group is opposed to the federal program’s rule that travellers must pay for a stay at an approved hotel while waiting on COVID-19 test results.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the on-arrival testing and hotel stay could cost each traveller more than $2,000.
NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said point-of-entry testing is just part of the picture and accused Ford of “diverting people’s attention to the airport” rather than taking concrete steps to control the pandemic inside Ontario.
“I think anything that prevents COVID-19 from entering Ontario needs to be considered but let’s face it, Doug Ford needs to pay attention to stopping the spread within Ontario,” Horwath said.
Ontario reported 1,969 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 36 more deaths linked to the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 886 of the new cases were in Toronto, 330 in Peel Region and 128 in York Region.
A spokeswoman for Ontario’s Ministry of Health said that as Toronto migrates to the provincial data system, additional records were reported for the local public health unit, resulting in an overestimate of Monday’s daily counts.