Amazon Canada has been ordered to shut down its Heritage Road plant in Brampton, Ont. because of a COVID-19 outbreak – something the retail giant plans to appeal.
The order from Peel Public Health forces the closure of all shifts as of midnight Friday requiring all workers to self-isolate for 14 days until March 27.
The Peel Public Health investigation determined that high-risk exposure to COVID-19 for everyone at Amazon Heritage cannot be ruled out.
Amazon responded, saying they’re seeking a formal review and are concerned this closure will “impact our Canadian customers.”
“Nothing’s more important than the health and safety of our employees and the communities we serve. We have done and are doing everything we can to support them and keep them safe through the pandemic, including regularly requiring 100% testing of all employees at our Heritage Road facility,” said Amazon spokesperson Dave Bauer.
“We just completed our most recent round of mandatory testing with less than a 1 percent positivity rate, and there appears to be little risk of spread within our facility. We do not believe the data supports this closure and we will appeal this decision. This closure may have some short-term impact on our Canadian customers, but we will work to recover as quickly as possible.”
Chief Medical Officer of Health Lawrence Loh says the Amazon facility has seen 617 cases since October. Transmission in the last two weeks rose 40 percent to 240 cases prompting the facility-wide closure.
“The continued challenge is that cases aren’t all linked to the same cluster,” said Loh. “In the last week, they detected variants of concern at the facility.”
The building is in the Steeles and Winston Churchill area.
The rate of infection across Peel Region has been dropping but Peel Public Health says the rate in the Amazon plant has been increasing significantly.
“Through a number of rounds of max testing we discovered more and more cases,” said Loh.
The facility employs approximately 5,000 workers.
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“This Amazon facility is in a vulnerable community and employs thousands of people. Immediate action must be taken to protect these essential workers and the community where they live,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s Medical Officer of Health.
“This was a difficult decision but a necessary one to stop further spread both in the facility and across our community. Essential workers remain the backbone of our community and I continue to urge both employers and policymakers to provide paid sick leave to anyone impacted by COVID-19.”
In an email, Amazon says all employees at Heritage Road have been tested twice in the past three weeks. They also say that since the pandemic began, the retail giant has provided employees with full pay for up to 14 days if workers were forced to self-isolate because of COVID-19.
Loh says there is no link between Amazon and Brampton Transit outbreaks. On Tuesday, Brampton Transit said service would be suspended after multiple employees tested positive for COVID-19.
Service will be disrupted to the Steeles West Corridor for at least seven days while Peel Public Health investigates.
Brampton Transit says it’s out of an abundance of caution to keep the community and employees safe.
It adds there is no additional risk to drivers, the public, or commuters.
Brampton mayor Patrick Brown defended Loh’s call to close the facility.
“I support Peel Public Health’s decision to close Amazon Canada’s Heritage Road facility in #Brampton for the next 14 days,” said the mayor.
“No corporation is more important than the health and safety of our residents. I hope this outbreak can be controlled as quickly as possible.”
The update comes with Amazon confirming Friday it will not put its retail warehouse in Canada on the site of a protected wetland in Pickering, Ont.