Premier John Horgan (The Canadian Press)

Horgan tells workers stay home if sick after COVID-19 outbreak at chicken plant

John Horgan says health investigators arrived at the United Poultry Co. Ltd. plant on Monday

B.C. Premier John Horgan says people who are sick must stay away from work after an outbreak of COVID-19 at a chicken processing plant in Vancouver.

Horgan said Wednesday workers should not go to work when they are sick because they fear losing wages, and he was planning a meeting with Labour Minister Harry Bains and WorkSafe BC officials to discuss sick pay issues.

Horgan said health investigators arrived at the United Poultry Co. Ltd. plant on Monday after one worker tested positive for COVID-19 and discovered more than two dozen other employees had the disease.

“The lesson that I’ve learned from the limited information I have on the poultry facility is that workers were coming to work because they were fearful that they would lose wages and not be able to meet their expenses,” Horgan told a news conference.

“We can’t have people putting others at risk for fear of economic consequences for themselves.”

Horgan said the presence of COVID-19 at a B.C. workplace signals the province cannot let down its guard in the fight against the disease.

“The outbreak in the poultry facility is a warning call that we can’t get too complacent,” he said. “We need to make sure that our workplaces are safe, even those essential workplaces.”

British Columbia reported 71 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, in a surge Health Minister Adrian Dix said reflected the outbreak among workers at the poultry plant.

B.C. reported three more deaths, all people from long-term care homes, for a total death toll of 90.

READ MORE: B.C.’s COVID-19 outlook coming in early May, Premier Horgan says

There has been 1,795 COVID-19 cases in B.C., while 1,079 people have fully recovered.

Twenty eight workers at the United Poultry Co. Ltd. in east Vancouver have tested positive for COVID-19.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during her daily news conference on Wednesday that employers are expected to pay attention to the health of their staff, without penalizing them for calling in sick.

She said employees feeling sick must stay away from work.

“Employers need to understand than an outbreak in your business has affects on all of us,” said Henry. “It also can have significant financial impact, both for the business and for your employees.”

The plant has been closed and Vancouver Coastal Health authority and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are investigating the outbreak.

The health authority said in a news release on Tuesday that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has determined a recall of chicken products from the plant is not required.

The federal agency, which inspects food processing plants like the one in Vancouver, did not comment directly on the COVID-19 outbreak at the plant in a statement Wednesday outlining its responsibilities.

“The CFIA has a responsibility for food safety and the safety of its employees,” the statement said. “Decisions related to plant operations due to COVID-19 are made by the establishments and local public health authorities.”

The statement said the agency expects operators to follow advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada and local public health authorities in addressing the pandemic.

WorkSafe BC media spokesman Craig Fitzsimmons said in a statement Wednesday that a prevention officer has been assigned to investigate the situation at the poultry plant.

“We will be discussing this outbreak with the premier and minister of labour, including any and all measures that can help reduce exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace,” he said.

The Olymel plant in Quebec, Harmony Foods near Calgary and the Cargill plant near High River, Alta., have also been closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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