Put peoples’ health before profit!

The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) condemns the Ontario government’s latest decisions to significantly restrict access to COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and reporting, and to halve isolation requirements. These political decisions will inevitably result in more unnecessary disease and deaths.

Despite higher vaccination rates and evidence that Omicron infection may result in less severe disease, a government approach that allows for mass infection will only prolong the pandemic and widen its effects, including untold numbers of people who will be left suffering from “long COVID.” The announcement on December 30 indicates that a “herd immunity” strategy is now effectively official policy for the Ford Conservatives. This approach disproportionately endangers the working class, racialized people, women, the elderly, people with disabilities and children. The January 3 announcement that schools will be closed for two weeks and that the province will re-enter “stage 2” of the re-opening plan is not designed to stop the spread but to “flatten the curve” to avoid total staffing collapse in essential industries.

While the government claims that the decision to restrict testing is a necessity it is in fact a political decision. It has always been possible to dedicate significantly more resources to testing and contact tracing, as demonstrated by other countries, and this is still possible. Access to free PCR testing is being cut off to most people while new private clinics are offering PCR tests for around $200. Rapid antigen tests are also available privately but scarce publicly. All health resources should be in public hands and distributed according to need, not hoarded by a growing private health industry profiteering from a pandemic.

The halving of isolation time from 10 to 5 days will mean that more people will go to work sick. This is another political decision that is clearly driven by corporate greed. There are only three days of temporary pandemic sick leave provided by the Ontario government right now. This doesn’t even cover a 5-day isolation requirement, meaning that many people will be forced back to work even earlier. Two years into the pandemic, and after months of mass demands, Ford still refuses to legislate 14 permanent employer-paid sick days for all workers.

The shortening of isolation requirements is being touted as a way to shore up healthcare workers, but it’s really about providing employers with exploitable labour in all sectors, sick or not. It is not specific to essential workers, but applies across the board. Hospitals are indeed facing a desperate situation in terms of staffing; however Omicron is far from the only cause of this long-term and chronic problem. The government could immediately lift Bill 124, for example, which has cut healthcare workers’ wages, in order to help stop the mass exodus from nursing. The government still needs to provide N95 masks to all healthcare workers. This has been demanded for almost two years now by workers and their unions, and it would help prevent many more essential workers from getting sick.

The Province has now delayed the reopening of schools by two weeks, a mere four days after stating that the delay would only be two days. It has also announced that there will not be public reporting for COVID cases in schools and day cares. Working-class parents and guardians are now scrambling once again without any supports.

It didn’t have to be this way. Education workers could have already been prioritized for boosters, vaccines for students could have been offered at school in December, proper ventilation could have been installed previously and class sizes could have been significantly reduced. Instead, parents and guardians are forced to miss work and risk not making rent. The federal “Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit” applies to guardians forced to lose more than 50% of their work hours due to school closures, but this requires an application and is less money than most working-class people working full-time make. Ontario must immediately ensure that all employers accommodate all guardians effected by school closures, with no loss in pay.

These latest dangerous decisions by the Ford government are part of the same pattern from the beginning of the pandemic: Doug Ford continues to put corporate profits miles ahead of public health. We have seen this time and time again with the Conservative government: allowing private long-term care corporations to profit off of mass death, refusing to invest in safe schools, bending to business lobbies to keep industries open, and failing to introduce adequate paid sick days. These policies and many more have led to countless avoidable deaths, as well as widespread financial hardship and ruin. Objectively, this approach has led to mass distrust in government health policy and helped fuel a huge rise in anti-mask, anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination movements. Many of these organizations and individuals are directly connected to growing ultra-right and fascist organizations in the province.

While the Ford government must be made accountable for the sickness and death they inflicted, we must not lose sight of the systemic roots of the health crisis caused by capitalism itself. While Western imperialist countries seem to now be explicitly adopting a herd immunity approach which facilitates mass infection, the socialist countries are still fighting with COVID-zero strategy. Even now, the corporate media is attacking China for imposing lockdowns and delivering groceries door-to-door in Xi’an. Where is the condemnation of the U.S. government for allowing over 800,000 COVID deaths to occur? Where is the condemnation of imperialism for refusing to waive vaccine patents, a refusal which may have caused this current wave of infection?

Necessary public health policies can be fought for and won. The Communist Party supports:

  • a massive expansion of testing, vaccination and economic and social supports to help working people isolate effectively to stop the spread;
  • the prioritization of education and childcare workers for booster shots;
  • the allocation of funding for research into preventing and treating long-COVID;
  • the immediate reduction of class sizes and adequate ventilation and air filtration for all classrooms;
  • the provision of respirators provided for all health, education and childcare workers;
  • 14 employer-paid, permanent sick days now.

This may mean less profit for big businesses; however it will result in less suffering and allow for our public healthcare system to care for all who need it.

Categories: Health