TRISH ALTASS: Inconsistency of COVID restrictions and lack of support for Island workers leave many feeling anxious

Yesterday’s COVID briefing brought in much-needed restrictions to address the growing cases of COVID in our province. However, with the announcement came very little on how the government will support Island workers during this stressful time. This is leading to many questions about where they fit into the King government’s plans to keep all Islanders safe.

First of all, the restrictions announced yesterday include only a partial shutdown of businesses. What is considered essential, and why are some things that were not deemed essential in prior lockdowns now open? In fact, there has been no discussion of what is or is not essential this time around. For example, we see gyms closed while retail remains open even though we know physical activity is a critical component of Islanders’ physical and mental health.

For businesses that are public-facing, what is the government doing to ensure those workers are protected? Public health guidance is shifting away from cloth masks to masks like 3-layer masks or N95s as the best protection against the airborne transmission of COVID. Is the government making these masks available to workers?

It was also surprising to not hear of any support being made available to retail workers who have no choice in this partial lockdown. They are unable to access existing help and must go to work regardless of their personal health and family circumstances. This, and the government’s delay in convening cabinet committees to support social and economic responses to the pandemic, shows the Premier failed to plan for this scenario.

Workers are being impacted by the loss of wages, access to legislated pay, employer-delivered sick leave, lack of childcare opportunities, and so much more. Why wasn’t the Minister of Economic Growth, Tourism, and Culture present at the time closures were announced to outline current supports and if any new supports would be added?

Now that we are in this situation, has there been any consideration of who might be falling through the cracks? How have any gaps in financial support for workers and local businesses been closed? Can the Minister of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture give workers and businesses full details on the programs he has put in place to help them now, how to access those programs, and what Islanders can expect to receive from their government?

Finally, what are the metrics being used to determine the appropriate restrictions and what are the criteria for lifting them? Without supporting science and data, these partial closures seem arbitrary, leaving workers feeling anxious and unsupported.

Trish Altass, MLA
Tyne Valley – Sherbrooke
Official Opposition Critic for Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture