By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Healthcare unions are opposing Quebec’s decision to allow some asymptomatic workers infected with COVID-19 to stay on the job, even as an infectious disease specialist warned more Canadian provinces may be forced into similar steps as Omicron surges.
Quebec said on Tuesday it had no choice but to allow some essential healthcare staff to continue working instead of isolating at home after testing positive, to prevent staff shortages from crippling healthcare services.
A number of unions said they are worried the decision will put healthcare networks under further strain, and workers and patients at risk.
“The network is not prepared to face the risks of the government’s decision to bring asymptomatic infected staff back to work. Right now, we are not even able to test staff in their workplace,” said Réjean Leclerc, president of the Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux, which represents 120,000 public and private sector healthcare workers in Quebec.
Leclerc called for better testing for workers and improved ventilation in hospitals.
“We cannot subscribe to this decision which endangers the health and safety not only of our members, but above all of the vulnerable people to whom they must provide essential care and services,” the Alliance of Professional and Technical Personnel in Health and Social Services said in a social media post.
The union represents 60,000 workers in public health and social services institutions across Quebec.
Provinces across Canada, including heavily populated Quebec and Ontario, are reporting new daily COVID-19 case records as the highly infectious Omicron variant takes hold, forcing ten of thousands of people into isolation.
Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, said on Wednesday other provinces were likely discussing similar measures to help tackle staffing shortages in hospitals.
“Every jurisdiction in the northern hemisphere is dealing with the same problem. The clear reality is we will not be able to function by keeping everyone isolated for 10 days,” he said.
Morris said he was not aware of other jurisdictions allowing infected healthcare staff to work, but noted that Norway had already shortened its isolation period during a wave of the Delta variant earlier this winter.
U.S. health authorities on Monday also shortened the recommended isolation time for Americans with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.
(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Nick Macfie)