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Amazon Warehouse Facing 2-Week Closure Amid Worsening Outbreak

An Amazon fulfillment center outside Toronto has effectively been ordered to close down for two weeks in the wake of rising coronavirus infections.

On Friday, Peel Public Health in Brampton, Ontario, instructed all employees working at the facility, codenamed YYZ4, to “self-isolate” from March 13-27 after finding “significantly” surging Covid-19 infection rates inside the Amazon operation, despite coronavirus cases generally declining in the regional area over the “past few weeks.”

“This Amazon facility is in a vulnerable community and employs thousands of people,” Dr. Lawrence C. Loh, the agency’s medical officer of health, said in a statement. “Immediate action must be taken to protect these essential workers and the community where they live.” He added that the “difficult decision” is “necessary” in order 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 policy makers to provide paid sick leave to anyone impacted by COVID-19,” Dr. Loh said.

Amazon said it has collaborated closely with the agency to test all employees twice in the past three weeks, arrange private bussing and enact an array of leading safety measures recognized by Peel Public Health. It also said it has poured $17 million in the facility’s coronavirus enhancements over the past year, part of the $11.4 billion it has spent globally on reworking 150 processes and procedures in light of the virus, from new social distancing guidelines to enhanced cleaning and sanitizing across every site, and Covid-19 testing programs. Policies in place since the pandemic began ensure workers required to quarantine are paid in full for the duration of their two-week self isolation.

“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 percent testing of all employees at our Heritage Road facility,” said Amazon spokesman Dave Bauer, adding that Canadian customers will see “some short-term impact” from the disruption.

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“We just completed our most recent round of mandatory testing with less than a 1% positivity rate, and there appears to be little risk of spread within our facility,” he added, noting that Amazon doesn’t “believe the data supports this closure” and “will appeal this decision.”

Amazon has long been attempting to battle back the coronavirus pandemic—and is now embroiled in litigation with New York state over how it handled Covid-19 outbreaks in facilities there. Amazon sued New York’s attorney general Letitia James to stop the state from taking legal action over its early Covid-19 response, including its firing of outspoken distribution center manager Christian Smalls. However, this didn’t prevent James from filing a countersuit against the tech titan, claiming its “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements” during the health emergency jeopardized the lives of workers and the general public.

In the fall, Amazon said it tallied roughly 19,800 infections in its ranks, a figure it claimed was 42 percent below what it expected to find.

News of the outbreak in Canada comes as President Biden on Thursday spoke of America “coming back” after a long, dark year, even as a German health official identified “clear signs” of a third wave and Italy prepares to lock down over Easter weekend in hopes of stemming a resurging outbreak.

In a news conference Friday, Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, said a third wave “has already begun” in the European nation, CNBC reported. Germany’s confirmed Covid-19 cases over a 24-hour period climbed by 14,356, the highest figure documented in the past 14 days and an increase of 2,444 cases versus the prior week, per the Berlin institute’s data.

In Italy, Premier Mario Draghi on Friday noted a “new wave of contagion” 12 months after the coronavirus pandemic took hold, national news agency ANSA reported. With 150,000 new weekly infections, up from 130,000 in the week before, and 5,000 more people hospitalized, with 600 requiring intensive care, Draghi said the Italian government will put most of the nation under “red zone” restrictions from March 15 through April 6, forcing non-essential stores to close and limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery service. Sources close to the matter say Italy will be fully under red zone quarantine measures during the April 3-5 Easter weekend, curbing travel at a time when families traditionally gather to celebrate.