By Adriana Vicic 

Peel Region and Toronto will move into Phase 2 of reopening as of June 24, while Windsor-Essex remains in Phase 1, said Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Monday.

The news makes Windsor-Essex the only region of Ontario to be excluded from Phase 2 allowances due to a continued increase in cases there, mostly among workers in the agri-farm industry.

“No one wants to see every region of Ontario open more than I do, but we have to do it right,” Ford said. “Unfortunately, the threat of this virus in the Windsor-Essex is still too great.” 

Ford said that his government is doing whatever they can to ensure that the Windsor-Essex regions can reopen as quickly as possible but will not rush if virus concerns amongst migrant workers continue.

Josh Rosaasen, a 26-year-old from Tecumseh, said that he doesn’t agree with the government’s decision to reopen everywhere else but Windsor-Essex.

 “I understand the reasoning—farms with foreign workers not getting tested—but it’s such a small subset of the population. I just don’t think it’s a reason to prevent reopening if you’re going to do it everywhere else,” said the Western graduate.

On Monday, Windsor-Essex reported 32 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period, 31 of which were in the agricultural-farming sector, according to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. 

“They think these people have a higher chance of bringing the virus over, but they’re probably safer than us regular folk that go shopping and are way safer than anyone working in an old age home where the virus has run rampant. So it doesn’t really make sense to me,” said Rosaasen.

Every year, thousands of migrant workers travel to Ontario to work on farms. Earlier this month, Leamington’s Erie Shores Hospital set up a testing centre specifically for farm workers, but closed after nine days, noting fewer than 10 per cent went to be tested.  Advocates are calling for more protection for migrant workers, saying many fear they will not be paid if they are not able to work.

Meanwhile, many Torontonians have their own concerns with Ford’s announcement.

“I was downtown Toronto a couple of weeks ago and there was no social distancing going on. I saw maybe two people wearing masks while I was there, and that’s without Phase 2. I feel like it’ll be a free for all once things open for real,” said Keena Alwahaidi, 24, of Oakville.

Danielle Stark, a 22-year-old osteopathy student, had similar worries about Phase 2 reopenings after seeing what happened in Phase 1.  

“It was surprising how many people weren’t taking the proper precautions in public or with group gatherings. Especially lately, with the gorgeous weather. I can’t be confident that people haven’t picked it up and just aren’t displaying symptoms yet,” she said.

Others, despite supporting Ford’s plan to reopen up slowly and gradually, are worried about the finer details.

“I think it’s great that he’s reopening parks, restaurants, patios, and so far I think every store and restaurant I’ve been to in Toronto has been doing a great job at ensuring social distancing and hand sanitizing,” said Aboudie Abouzid, a 24-year-old living downtown Toronto.

“But the malls are pretty much super crowded and they’re meant to fit as many people inside as possible,” he said. “And malls have multiple doors of entrance, so unlike a normal store, you’re going to have a hard time controlling the flow into the mall and out of the mall through multiple doors of entrance and to coordinate that between all the workers will be next to impossible.”

Rebuilding mall layouts is just one aspect the government is going to have to rethink moving forward in a post-pandemic era, he said. 

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