Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed “sorrow” over the death of a teenage girl living in a COVID-19 hotspot, even as his party voted down paid sick leave again.
Brampton resident Emily Victoria Viegas, 13, died Thursday of COVID-19, becoming one of the youngest Canadians to succumb to the virus. Her mother, who also has COVID-19, is currently on oxygen at a Brampton Civic Hospital, according to the Globe and Mail. Her father, Carlos Viegas, is an essential warehouse worker, living in an area that has a 22 percent test positivity rate, double the provincial average.
Carlos Viegas, the only one in his family to test negative for COVID, was home isolating with his two children while his wife was in hospital, according to the Globe. Emily was found unresponsive by her brother, who noticed she wasn’t moving in the bedroom they shared. She was rushed to the hospital but a doctor called Viegas to tell him his daughter had died shortly afterwards.
In a statement issued Monday, Ford said, “My heart absolutely breaks for this family. I can’t imagine the unbearable pain and sorrow they are feeling right now. It’s heart-wrenching and a devastating reminder of what this virus can do.”
Viegas’ death has sparked outrage directed at Ford, due to his government’s refusal to grant paid sick leave for essential workers and to direct 50 percent of vaccines to hotspots, measures recommended by Ontario’s Science Advisory Table. Last week, Ford said he was working on a plan to fill in the gaps of the federal government’s sick leave benefit, which does not pay workers’ immediately. But so far he hasn’t announced the details of those plans, though he did say the government will be footing the bill, rather than employers.
Workplaces have been the largest source of Ontario’s COVID outbreaks.
On Monday, responding to criticism over Viegas’ death, Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott defended the government,
“Emily's death is a tragedy...it is a tragic situation that she passed away,” she said, according to Globe and Mail reporter Laura Stone. “However we all need to remember that we are working as hard as we can to bring vaccines.”
Elliott said the government is considering listening to the advice of the science table and directing more vaccines to hotspots.
Viegas’ family friend is crowdfunding to raise money for the child’s funeral. Carlos Viegas told the Globe he was letting his daughter recover at home because he was concerned that Brampton’s hospital was too full and that she would be moved to a hospital far away.
Despite being the fourth largest city in Ontario and having a population of about 600,000, Brampton only has one hospital.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government voted down a Liberal MPP’s bill to give people 10 days of paid sick leave. One Liberal MPP said it was the 21st time the Progressive Conservatives have voted down a paid sick leave bill.
Reacting to the dismissal of his bill, Michael Coteau said the Ford government has “refused to act” for over 400 days.
“This government’s irrational, ideological refusal to implement paid sick leave over the past year is something we all must condemn,” Coteau said in a statement. “If and when they actually bring in a program, it will be too little too late, and following dozens of votes against programs that would have worked far sooner.”
The Ford government has faced major backlash in recent weeks amid the province’s third wave, which is overwhelming intensive care units. On Monday, the province formally requested help from the Canadian Armed Forces.
Ford’s initial response to the third wave was to increase police powers, including allowing them to stop and interrogate anyone about why they weren’t at home, and to close playgrounds and other outdoor amenities. He walked back some of those measures within 24 hours after a fierce outcry from the public, Opposition parties, local police forces, and even members of his own caucus. A week later, while holding a Zoom press conference because he was quarantined due to a workplace COVID exposure, Ford delivered a tearful apology for “moving too fast” to enact new restrictions.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the Viegas surname. VICE World News regrets the error.