----- Sick benefits for physicians & other health professionals
About 58% of Canadian workers lack adequate sick leave. A Peel (near Toronto) Public Health Study found that between August, 2020 and January, 2021, a quarter of workers with potential COVID-19 symptoms (including 80 persons who had tested positive) went to work anyway.
COVID-19 variants are multiplying. UK, South African, and Brazilian variants are more contagious and probably more lethal; South Africa's appears resistant to the AstraZeneca vaccine. The increase in variants here may be related to the fact that by mid-January, 2021, 234 international flights to Canada had carried passengers infected with the virus.
With no domestic production, until next year, the vaccination program for Canadians has been poor. We rank 35th in the immunization rate per capita.
While relaxing restrictions, Premiers Legault, Kenney and Ford still ignore the greater problem of workplace infections. They should set up more self-isolation centres, and guarantee paid sick leave to workers, especially in essential areas such as healthcare.
The new Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit pays $450 per week, after taxes, for up to two weeks, even to self-employed workers. Unlike paid sick days, persons must apply for payment, it reimburses less than minimum wage, does not cover a shorter leave, and payment may take several weeks. These amounts do not replace the lost income of physicians, most nurses, and other health professionals.
In Canada, as of late July, about 20% of COVID-19 cases were in health workers -- double the global average. Infection rates are higher in MDs than in other health professionals. Yet most physicians are self-employed and rely on private insurance. Those older than 65 generally cannot qualify. Most have a waiting period of at least two weeks. The Yukon and most provinces cover their physicians from day one of self-isolation. Alberta and Ontario have left their physicians financially unprotected throughout the pandemic.
Finance Minister Freeland should raise the Canada Health Transfer to the provinces and territories. They in turn should provide pandemic sick benefits to all practicing physicians, and other health professionals -- a major potential cause of spread of the virus.
If the premiers guarantee financial protection, workers will not avoid testing, and adequate sick leave for other workers may reduce prolonged lockdowns with its dire effects on the lives, livelihoods, and mental health of Canadians.
Charles S. Shaver, MD