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Coronavirus affects Canada's supply chain: Meat plants closing, reducing production – CTV News



COVID-19 infections are now disrupting parts of Canada’s food sector, including the meat processing industry.

Meat-packing plants in Alberta that are responsible for a substantial portion of Canada’s beef are shut or running reduced lines as they grapple with outbreaks among staff.

The shutdown of these plants and others across the country is causing a ripple effect throughout Canada’s food supply chain, affecting grocery stores and fast-food chains.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the shutdown of meat plants in his daily public briefing on Wednesday, saying the federal government’s priority is ensuring those supply chains keep functioning and that its workers feel safe.

“The priority or the preoccupation and challenges we’re facing isn’t as much around safety of the food produced, which continues to be ensured, but the safety of the workers working in those plants because of COVID-19,” Trudeau said. “That is something that requires a little more work and a little more co-ordination to ensure that we’re keeping those workers safe, not just the food safe — which is always a priority for us all.”

Trudeau said the federal government is working “very closely” with the agricultural industry and provinces to ensure that meat plants continue to get food to Canadians while adhering to public health measures. looks at which processing plants are seeing outbreaks and what the companies are doing to ensure Canada maintains a safe supply of meat.


Cargill Inc. — one of Alberta’s largest meat processing plants — shut down its plant in High River on April 20 after a 68-year-old woman who worked at the plant died from COVID-19.

As of Tuesday, there are now 759 cases of COVID-19 confirmed among workers at the Cargill plant. It’s the largest outbreak linked to a single site in Canada.

The temporary closure of the facility isn’t expected to result in beef shortages, but the reduction in capacity will mean that ranchers will bear the brunt. As prices for their product fall, ranchers will have to choose between an increase in transportation costs for sending their cattle further for processing, or an increase in overhead because they’re keeping the animals for longer.

The Cargill plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle per day — more than one-third of Canada’s beef-processing capacity.


The JBS meat-packing plant in Brooks, Alta. has recorded 124 cases as of COVID-19 and one death as of Monday. The plant has reduced operations but remains open.

A petition has been launched calling for a temporary two-week shutdown of the facility to limit the spread of the virus, and for an inspection to ensure public health measures are being upheld.

JBS and Cargill make up 70 per cent of Canada’s beef processing, according to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

CCA Executive Vice President Dennis Laycraft told that the closure of these two plants has already created a backlog of market-ready animals.

“Cargill is one of our largest plants and combined with what’s happening in JBS, that’s basically pushing prices down as cattle are delayed to be sold. And we’ve seen prices since the plant closed dropped by about $500 an animal,” Laycraft said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

To cope with the backlog, Laycraft said producers are keeping cattle on feed for longer to slow their growth.


Pork processing plant Conestoga Meats in the Waterloo, Ont. region halted operations April 24 after seven of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. The plant will not be processing hogs for at least 7 days, resulting in limited staffing and operations. The company typically processes between 35,000 to 40,000 hogs a week

The company said in a statement that it is working closely with health officials to ensure prevention, testing, and cleaning protocols are being followed. The Ontario Ministry of Labour is investigating two complaints filed April 22 about a lack of physical distancing procedures at the plant is ongoing.


The union representing employees at the Lilydale plant in Calgary is calling for the factory’s closure after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

The employee last worked at the plant on April 15 and is self-isolating at home. Sofina Foods, which owns the plant, says it remains fully operational and has taken a number of steps to protect its workers. However, the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union says physical distancing measures at the plant are not being followed and are asking it be closed until proper health protocols are in place.


The United Poultry Co. Ltd. plant in Vancouver temporarily closed on April 20 after 28 workers at the plant tested positive for COVID-19. The outbreak prompted a statement from B.C. Premier John Horgan who said that sick employees must stay home after learning that workers stayed on the job for fear of losing wages.

Vancouver Coastal Health and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are investigating the outbreak. The health authority said in a news release that the CFIA determined that a recall of chicken products from the plant is not required.

Two cases of COVID-19 were also confirmed at United Poultry Co.’s sister plant Superior Poultry on April 23. An investigation at the plant is underway.


Quebec’s Olymel slaughterhouse closed on March 29 after nine cases of COVID-19 were detected among its workforce. More than 100 workers at the facility were later found to have been infected.

The plant has since reopened following an increase in disinfection measures and screening activities issued by the region’s health authorities. The plant’s entire workforce was in self-isolation during the closure and only those who have exhibited no symptoms have returned to work.


Major poultry plant Maple Leaf Foods located in Brampton, Ont. suspended operations on April 8 after three people working at the facility tested positive for COVID-19.

The plant has since reopened following a deep cleaning of the plant, including common areas and offices.

An additional COVID-19 case was also confirmed earlier this month at Maple Leaf Foods Heritage plant in Hamilton, Ont. However, the company says the plant remained open as the worker had not been at the plant for two weeks before the diagnosis.


As meat plants make changes to production, the impact is starting to be felt in grocery stores across the country with slower operations struggling to meet demand.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a video conference in mid April that she is confident Canada has enough food amid the COVID-19 pandemic but said higher prices and less variety on store shelves is a possibility.

Laycraft said the sooner meat-packing plants make adjustments to their production lines so employees can safely return to work, the less likely there will be a meat shortage.

“Plants are actually putting in place literally hundreds of changes to ensure there’s a safe workplace,” Laycraft said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll get plants up and running and if we do, then we can avoid shortages. But if they continue to be idle, then then we will start to face shortages.”

Restaurants and fast food chains are also starting to be impacted from Canadian meat plants closing or reducing operations.

McDonald’s Canada says it will start importing beef as Canada’s food supply chain struggles to meet demand amid changes in operations to meat plants amid COVID-19. The restaurant chain, which prides itself on using only Canadian beef, said in a statement released April 28 that it had to change its policy due to limited processing capacity at Canadian suppliers including those at Cargill Inc.

In the United States, President Donald Trump has issued an executive order that meat-processing plants remain open to protect the country’s food supply, despite concerns it puts employees at risk of catching the virus.

At least 15 large plants in the U.S., including major producer JBS USA, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson Foods, among others, have temporarily closed or reduced production due to outbreaks.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said beef producers and associations are prioritizing Canadian supply before exports to ensure there are no shortages.

Canada exports about 45 per cent of its beef and cattle production annually, according to the national association, and ships to 56 countries, with the U.S. receiving 74 per cent of beef exports.

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Canada has an army of volunteers ready to help fight COVID-19 — so why aren't we using them? –



Thousands of Canadians have volunteered their time to help track COVID-19 cases across the country, but even Canada’s hardest-hit provinces haven’t used them.

The National COVID-19 Volunteer Recruitment Campaign was launched by the federal government in early April, calling on Canadians from coast-to-coast to step up and help. 

“We need you!” the campaign urgently stated. 

“We are building an inventory of volunteers from which provincial and territorial governments can draw upon as needed. We welcome ALL volunteers as we are looking for a wide variety of experiences and expertise.” 

Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, tweeted the campaign on April 12 to Canadians wondering how they could help with the COVID-19 response. 

Volunteers were called on to help with three key areas: case tracking and contact tracing, assessing health system surge capacity, and case data collection and reporting. 

Health Canada and The Public Health Agency of Canada said 53,769 people signed up to assist in the effort by the time the posting closed on April 24. 

But weeks later, the volunteer database does not appear to have been used in any province or territory — even in Ontario and Quebec, where 90 per cent of Canada’s new COVID-19 cases are now occurring.

“As contact tracing responsibilities fall under each provincial and territorial jurisdiction, they are determining when and how they will train and deploy volunteers to meet their evolving needs,” a spokesperson for Health Canada and PHAC said.

CBC News reached out to every provincial and territorial health ministry in the country and none could confirm they had used any of the volunteers.

Health Canada said it also shared names from the volunteer database with the Canadian Red Cross to help personnel in long-term care facilities. 

But a spokesperson for the organization said they have only “recently started the initial process of reaching out to some of the individuals who submitted their names.”

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

Canadians ready to help

Toronto teacher Shalini Basu found herself unexpectedly unemployed due to the global coronavirus pandemic, after her contract ended in March and schools across Ontario closed for the remainder of the school year. 

“I read about volunteers for the database on Twitter and thought it would be a great way to use my time and be useful, seeing as though I have a lot of free time these days,” she said.

“I follow the news very closely and it seemed like there was an urgent need for volunteers.” 

She filled out an extensive questionnaire online and was excited to help at a time when there wasn’t much else she could do for others — aside from staying home. 

But Basu still hasn’t heard anything. 

Volunteers said they were extensively questioned on whether they had medical experience, military experience and even veterinary experience to gauge where they could be best put to use. 

But despite calling on people with a “wide variety of expertise,” many volunteers are left wondering who exactly the federal government was hoping to use. 

“I hope by not being called it also means that a lot of Canadians applied and they filled their quota,” Basu said. 

“I’ve been wondering how much this initiative actually got underway.”

More than 53,000 people signed up to volunteer from April 12 to 24. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Paul Baker also wanted to help. 

The retired Guelph, Ont., senior has a background in marketing and felt he could be put to use reaching out to confirmed COVID-19 cases by phone to help track their close contacts. 

“There is that first step that’s got to be taken in contact tracing, which is calling the person that’s positive and they know they’re positive, so it’s not going to be a stressful situation,” he said. 

“Then you turn that over to somebody who’s got more training in how to actually call somebody and say, ‘You might be COVID positive.'” 

Baker spent 45 minutes filling out the questionnaire, and hoped to be called on to help in other areas of the province or the country that had a high volume of new cases or outbreaks in long-term care homes.

But weeks later, he hasn’t received an update. 

‘Federal-provincial divide’

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says the motivation for the campaign was commendable and compared it to a “wartime effort.” 

“Congratulations to the government for having that initiative up front, because they recognize contact tracing would be a big part of this,” he said. 

“But there clearly wasn’t a subsequent plan to use the roster in a strategic way and there wasn’t a subsequent plan to navigate the federal-provincial divide.” 

Because each province and territory has individual public health units that allocate resources and make decisions at a local level, Deonandan says a national database of volunteers would be challenging to roll out effectively. 

“I’m not really surprised,” he said.

Even one of his PhD students in epidemiology volunteered and never heard back, Deonandan said.

“What needs to happen, obviously, is for the provinces to take over the contact tracing capacity in a meaningful way and maybe even restart the volunteer rostering process — because I’m still getting people contacting me asking how they can get involved.” 

While more advanced interventions could be left to professionals, volunteers feel they could help make initial contact with COVID-19 patients over the phone to trace their close contacts. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, has been calling on Ontario to step up contact tracing as the province continues to move toward reopening despite a steady stream of high caseloads

“Anyone who knows what it’s like to go after something, can use a telephone and has a high school education can be trained to do the work,” he said. Both his parents — one of whom is a university professor — had volunteered and never heard back.

“I think public health is so overwhelmed that even managing a bunch of new people, whether they’re hired or volunteers, is probably something they can’t handle.” 

Contact tracing key to stopping spread 

A recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal found isolating positive cases and contact tracing played a key role in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Shenzen, China.  

Patients that were found to have COVID-19 because they reported symptoms of the disease were identified at an average of 4.6 days after they reported getting sick. 

But contact tracing of those close to them, such as in the same household, reduced that time to just 2.7 days on average. 

Another recent study published by JAMA Internal Medicine examined the first 100 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Taiwan and found they were most infectious in the days leading up to showing symptoms and in the five days after. 

That study stresses the need to identify potential cases that may have been unknowingly exposed, but not know they’re sick yet, to effectively contain the spread of the disease.

“These findings underscore the pressing public health need for accurate and comprehensive contact tracing and testing,” Robert Steinbrook wrote in an editor’s note. “Testing only those people who are symptomatic will miss many infections and render contact tracing less effective.”

Ontario needs to increase contact tracing in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the province, says Dr. Michael Warner. 9:11

The World Health Organization also says contact tracing is “an essential public health tool for controlling infectious disease outbreaks” that can “break the chains of transmission” of COVID-19.  

Volunteers could help not only with tracing contacts of COVID-19 patients, but also with cutting down the time it takes to notify public health units of positive cases, Warner said. 

“One of the biggest sources of a lag in effective contact tracing is the time it takes from the moment the patient is swabbed to the time that piece of paper arrives in the fax machine at the public health office,” he said. 

“We’ve got we’ve got people on the bench willing to work, but they probably don’t even have the capacity to open that list and look at those names because they can’t even do the job they’ve been tasked to do.”

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.

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Provincial border bans during pandemic anger barred Canadians, spark lawsuits –



Lesley Shannon of Vancouver was infuriated when New Brunswick rejected her request last month to enter the province to attend her mother’s burial. 

“I’m mystified, heartbroken and angry,” said Shannon on Wednesday. “They’re basically saying my mother’s life has no value.” 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and the three territories have temporarily barred Canadian visitors from entering their borders unless they meet specific criteria, such as travelling for medical treatment. 

The provinces and territories say the extreme measures are necessary to protect their residents from the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness. 

But the border bans have fuelled criticism from civil rights advocates who argue barring fellow Canadians is unconstitutional. The travel restrictions have also angered Canadians denied entry for travel they believe is crucial. 

“I’m not trying to go to my aunt’s or cousin’s funeral. This is my mother, my last living parent,” said Shannon, who grew up in Rothesay, N.B.

Lesley Shannon of Vancouver, right, pictured with her late mother, Lorraine, was infuriated when New Brunswick rejected her request last month to enter the province to attend her mother’s burial. (Submitted by Lesley Shannon)

Protecting health of its citizens

On Thursday, shortly after CBC News asked for comment on Shannon’s case, the New Brunswick government announced it will reopen its borders starting June 19 to Canadian travellers with immediate family or property in New Brunswick. It also plans to grant entry to people attending a close family member’s funeral or burial.

The province’s Campbellton region, however, remains off limits.

Shannon was happy to hear the news, but is unsure at this point if she’ll be allowed to enter the province in time for her mother’s burial. She would first have to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, as required the province, and the cemetery holding her mother’s body told her the burial must happen soon.

“I’m just hoping that [permission comes] fast enough for me.”

New Brunswick told CBC News that restricting out-of-province visitors has served as a key way to protect the health of its citizens.

“It’s necessary because of the threat posed by travel: all but a handful of New Brunswick’s [COVID-19] cases are travel cases,” said Shawn Berry, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, in an email.

Legal challenges

Kim Taylor of Halifax was so upset over being denied entry in early May to attend her mother’s funeral in Newfoundland and Labrador she launched a lawsuit against the province.

“I certainly feel like the government has let me and my family down,” she said.

It’s not right. No province in Canada can shut its borders to Canadian citizens.– John Drover, lawyer

Shortly after speaking publicly about her case, Taylor got permission to enter the province —11 days after initially being rejected. But the court challenge is still going ahead — on principle.

“It’s not right. No province in Canada can shut its borders to Canadian citizens,” alleged Taylor’s lawyer, John Drover. 

Kim Taylor said Newfoundland and Labrador’s decision to deny her entry into the province following her mother’s death exacerbated her grief. (CBC)

Violates charter, CCLA says

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has joined the lawsuit and has sent letters to each of the provinces and territories banning Canadian visitors, outlining its concerns. 

The CCLA argues provinces and territories barring Canadians violates the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that every Canadian has the right to live and work in any province. 

The CCLA said if a province or territory limits those rights, its reasons must be justified. 

“So far, what we’ve seen from these governments hasn’t convinced us that there is good evidence that these limits are reasonable,” said Cara Zwibel, director of CCLA’s fundamental freedoms program.

“The existence of a virus in and of itself is not enough of a reason.”

Cara Zwibel is director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s fundamental freedoms program. The CCLA argues provinces and territories barring Canadians violates the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Submitted by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association)

Newfoundland and Labrador also face a proposed class-action lawsuit launched this month, representing Canadians denied entry who own property in the province.

“The issue that our clients take is that this [restriction] is explicitly on geographic grounds and that seems to be contrary to the Charter of Rights,” said Geoff Budden, a lawyer with the suit, which has not yet been certified.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government told CBC News it’s reviewing the lawsuits. They have both been filed in the province’s Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball defended the province’s travel restrictions, arguing they remain necessary to avoid spreading the virus.

“This is put in place to protect Newfoundlanders and Labradorians; it’s not about shutting people out,” he said. 

WATCH | Inside the fight against COVID-19:

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What about a 14-day isolation?

The rest of Canada’s provinces have each advised against non-essential travel for now but are still allowing Canadian visitors to enter their province. Nova Scotia and Manitoba, however, require that visitors self-isolate for 14 days. CCLA’s Zwibel said that rule may be a less restrictive way for a province to protect its residents during the pandemic. 

“The Charter of Rights does require that if governments do place limits on rights, they do so in a way that impairs them as little as possible,” she said. 

Back in Vancouver, a frustrated Shannon points out that New Brunswick is already allowing temporary foreign workers into the province — as long as they self-isolate for 14 days. However, her invitation is still pending.

“It’s very upsetting to think I’m less welcome in New Brunswick than somebody who was not even born in Canada,” she said.

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Ontario, Quebec continue to account for majority of Canada’s new novel coronavirus cases –



Despite hundreds of new novel coronavirus cases still being reported in Ontario and Quebec, the number of overall cases across Canada continued to trend downward Friday.

More than 600 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported on Friday raised the national tally past 94,000 cases overall. More than 52,000 people are considered recovered, with more than 1.9 million tests conducted.

The national death toll went up by 66 deaths, for a total of 7,703.

How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

Quebec accounted for the majority of the daily death toll once again. The province has been the hardest-hit region in Canada for the past few weeks, with 55 per cent of the national caseload and nearly 5,000 deaths (more than 60 per cent of Canada’s death toll).

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Quebec reported 50 new deaths and 255 new cases on Friday. More than 17,700 people are deemed recovered in the province.

Ontario reported 344 new cases and 15 new deaths, leaving the province with nearly 30,000 cases and more than 2,300 deaths. More than 23,000 people have recovered from the virus.

Coronavirus: Ontario resumes short-term rentals

Coronavirus: Ontario resumes short-term rentals

B.C. reported one new case and one new death, for a total of 2,628 cases and 167 deaths. The province has seen 2,272 people recover so far.

The Prairie provinces recorded new cases in the single digits. Alberta saw seven new cases — the lowest daily number recorded by the province since March 12.

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Manitoba reported two new cases, bringing its total to 289 cases and seven deaths, while Saskatchewan reported one new case.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Canada could see up to 9,400 total deaths by June 15, new modelling shows

All four Atlantic provinces reported no new cases or deaths on Friday. Prince Edward Island’s 27 cases have been resolved for weeks now, Newfoundland and Labrador has two active cases left out of 261 cases and three deaths, and Nova Scotia, where 61 people have died so far, saw bars and restaurants reopen.

New Brunswick reported its first COVID-19-related death on Thursday and has mandated face coverings in public buildings. Out of 136 cases, 121 are recovered.

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau asked why his government didn’t collect race-based data

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau asked why his government didn’t collect race-based data

The Northwest Territories and the Yukon continue to see no new cases, having resolved all their cases for some time. Nunavut remain the only region in Canada that hasn’t reported a positive case of COVID-19 so far.

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Worldwide, COVID-19 has resulted in more than 6.7 million cases and nearly 394,000 deaths, according to figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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