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An Open Letter to Our Governments on COVID-19

in Featured/Letter by

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the COVID-19 pandemic comes at a time of significant global and local uncertainty. 

Across the world, communities are already strained under simultaneous unfolding threats to our physical, psychological, social, and financial health including climate change, economic crises, rising fascism, and ongoing austerity. 

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we are just emerging from the upheaval of a historic storm and ensuing state of emergency. Our province has been wracked in recent years with poor governance, debt, austerity, and economic uncertainty. We have long known that our provincial healthcare system is overburdened and under-resourced, while Newfoundlanders and Labradorians suffer from the highest rates of chronic illness in the country.

Crisis is no longer approaching: it is at our door and it will impact the most vulnerable people in our province, and across the world, with the greatest intensity. 

The only choice we have now is solidarity. 

As community members, we will respond with strong measures of physical distancing, social solidarity, and mutual aid. 

We applaud the leadership that many individuals, organizations, businesses and governments have taken in imposing widespread precautionary measures. 

But we know that our governments and service providers can do more to ensure an equitable response to COVID-19. As the pandemic evolves, our national, provincial and local responses must also evolve along with it. 

The specific actions that we are calling for follow. None of these are fanciful — many have been discussed and some have already been successfully employed elsewhere in Canada and across the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In all responses to COVID-19 our governments and service providers must prioritize those who are most physiologically and socially vulnerable to this virus and the social response to it. 

These include:

  • Institutionalized people (e.g., incarcerated people, those in shelters, and in elder and long-term care facilities);
  • Seniors, elders and immunocompromised people; 
  • Those who experience racial, cultural, and linguistic discrimination which limits access to healthcare and support systems;
  • Those who are homeless, and those who live alone, without adequate support in their homes, or who live in violent homes;
  • Those engaging in essential work that is traditionally feminized, racialized, low-waged and performed by migrants and people with precarious immigration status (e.g., childcare, homecare, grocery store workers).

It also includes people living in rural, remote, Northern and Indigenous communities within Newfoundland and Labrador, who face unique challenges including a lack of clean drinking water, food insecurity, and inadequate healthcare resources.

People must have security – in terms of employment, finances, immigration status and otherwise – to be able to stay home from work if they are sick, abide by public health measures, and protect themselves and those around them. To this end, we call upon all relevant levels of government to work together to: 

  • Institute Universal Basic Income (which is progressively and not regressively taxed) and the following wage supports:
    • Moratorium on firing workers who do not arrive to work because they choose to self-quarantine, who are sick, or who lack childcare;
    • Institutional paid sick leave of at least 21 days for all workers (including those who are self-employed);
    • A living-wage for anyone required to work outside their home during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Institute an immediate moratorium on housing evictions (and on cutting off utilities), including for housing programs and shelters. 
  • Suspend mortgage payments, rent payments, electricity and heating oil payments. 
  • Increase pay and protections for those working in support roles for elder and disabled populations – this work is feminized, racialized, and is often performed by people with precarious immigration status.
  • Introduce supports for parents who have to miss work due to childcare demands or need childcare due to work demands, develop COVID-19 resources for those engaging in childcare, and develop options for providing childcare for those who need it.
  • Require that all relevant service providers institute a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” regarding immigration status so that undocumented migrants can access services in Newfoundland and Labrador without fear. Consider designating the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador as the first sanctuary province. 
  • Immediately offer permanent residency to all Temporary Foreign Workers.
  • Grant immediate Medical Care Plan coverage to recently graduated international students, people who are waiting for work permits, temporary workers and those who are stranded because of COVID-19.
  • Include international students and temporary workers in all federal, provincial and municipal emergency support measures.
  • Offer immediate permanent residency or citizenship for international students and recent graduates. 

Many government institutions – especially the healthcare system – will require increased resources to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. We argue that the community sector also requires increased resources, financial and otherwise, as they are well poised to ensure a just response to the pandemic. To this end, we call upon all relevant levels of government to work together to: 

  • Ensure transparency and accessible information-sharing with citizens and community organizations during and after the pandemic. 
  • Collaborate with community sector organizations, coalitions, and cooperatives with social justice and equity goals to strengthen the community-led response.
  • Mobilize public and private spaces, in partnership with the community sector, to increase capacity for homeless and precariously housed people, and people living with violence, to practice physical distancing, quarantine, and self-isolation. Potential spaces could include, but are not limited to, community centres, stadiums, hotels and residences.
  • Outline a transparent plan for addressing shortages of supplies and equipment in our healthcare system. These include but are not limited to: testing kits, oxygen, and ventilators. Open fever hospitals in public or private spaces if bed space is lacking. 
  • Offer COVID-19-related resources in all languages spoken across the province, and in a variety of formats accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Gather and disseminate anonymized data about the types of supports requested and provided to identify community needs and build future community capacity.
  • Give existing shelters increased financial resources and discretion to adapt their admissions criteria.
  • Release incarcerated people currently on remand to prevent the prison healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. 
  • Provide funding to art-based solutions that maintain social closeness during physical distancing.
  • Collaborate with food banks, community freezers, and meal programs to ensure food reaches people who depend on their services.

Further, we condemn racism towards Asian, Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and other racialized communities, and call on all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to support those who are being targeted by hate crimes and discrimination. 

This pandemic has laid bare the inequities at the root of our current social structures. In responding to it, we must continue to fight for the world we want to see. When we wake up from this current nightmare, we want it to be in the world of our choosing – not a world that a pandemic and an inadequate, unjust system chose for us. 

Now is the time to collaboratively build a robust response to COVID-19 and to create the conditions that will make collective flourishing possible. 

In Solidarity, 

Addressing Islamophobia in NL Project

Anti-Poverty NL

Anti-Racism Coalition NL

Fight for $15 and Fairness

Graduate Students’ Union of Memorial University

Social Justice Co-operative NL

Sign the online petition here.

Art by N.O. Bozo.

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