Immigrants, refugees make up almost half of Ontario’s COVID-19 cases: report

A new report has found that immigrants, refugees and other newcomers made up 43.5 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Ontario as of mid-June, despite those groups representing just over 25 per cent of the province’s population.

The report also found that testing rates were lower for immigrants and refugees when compared to Canadian-born and long-term residents, with the exception of Ontario immigrants who are classified as “economic caregivers.”

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“What we found particularly striking was that overall testing rates were lower in most immigrant, refugee and newcomer populations, but the rate of positive cases is significantly higher than Canadian-born or long-term residents,” said Dr. Astrid Guttmann, the lead author of the report and chief science officer at Ontario research organization ICES, in a statement.

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According to the report, immigrants and refugees from world regions where a majority are racialized in Canada — including Central, Western and East Africa, South America and the Carribbean — experienced the highest rates of COVID-19.

“Causes of these inequities are complex and often rooted in social and structural inequities, including systemic racism,” the report reads.

“For COVID-19, occupational risk is critical considering the over-representation of racialized and immigrant populations, especially women, in essential work.”

Coronavirus: Migrant workers demand immigration status amid COVID-19 outbreak

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Many of those essential worker jobs are public-facing and low-paying, the report says, and include health and social care workers, retail grocery store employees, public transit drivers, among others.

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“These communities are also over-represented in occupations that occur in settings such as meat-packing plants or factories where physical distancing is difficult and personal protective equipment was initially not universally available,” the report says.

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Other findings of the newly released report indicate that while testing rates were higher among those living in low-income neighbourhoods in Ontario, positive coronavirus test results were strongly correlated with living in low-income neighbourhoods for immigrants, refugees and newcomers — not for Canadian-born and long-term residents.

The report also found neighbourhoods with high household densities were associated with higher positive COVID-19 cases in Ontario in general but even more so for immigrants, refugees and other newcomers.

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“Crowded living arrangements are more common in some immigrant populations with multigenerational households, and more generally for those of low income,” the report says.

The report indicated that socio-economic factors were also related to people testing positive for COVID-19: adult immigrants and refugees with fewer years of formal education who spoke little English or French at the time of immigration were associated with lower COVID-19 testing rates but a higher per cent of positive coronavirus cases.

“A number of public health initiatives may help to mitigate the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 infections as Ontario prepares for the possibility of a second wave of infections in the fall,” the report reads.

“This includes initiatives such as more accessible testing options, including mobile testing to help identify and address barriers to testing.”

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The report says it’s also important for Ontario’s public health units with large immigrant and refugee populations to work with local groups that represent those communities.

“In the long-term, it is critical that efforts be made to address the social and structural issues experienced by temporary and permanent immigrants and other racialized groups,” the report says.

The ICES report analyzed coronavirus tests and results from Jan. 15 until June 13 for all the province’s residents who are eligible for OHIP — apart from those living in long-term care homes.

The characteristics that were measured include age group, sex, immigration status, country or world region of birth, Canadian language fluency, employment as a health care worker, neighbourhood income, number of people per dwelling and public health unit of residence.

The report notes some limitations, including the challenges in interpreting positive COVID-19 rates in the context of Ontario’s testing strategy, which has developed over time.

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