On April 22, Emily Victoria Viegas became one of the youngest people in Canada to die of COVID-19. At only 13 years old, this loss is heart-shattering. Her death exemplifies the worst fears of so many working class families.
Emily lived with her parents and brother in a small two-bedroom apartment in Brampton, Ontario. Her father, Carlos Viegas, is an essential worker at a warehouse. He is the sole breadwinner for the family and the only one exposed to others in the community. In early April Emily’s mother became sick. A week later she was tested for COVID-19 and the test came back positive. The very next day she was admitted to Brampton Civic Hospital ICU and put on oxygen. At the same time Emily was starting to develop a bad cough, and a week later a fever came on, along with laboured breathing. Because of fear that Emily would be transferred to a hospital outside the city, her father chose to take care of her at home. On April 22, Emily’s brother found her in bed not breathing. Mr. Viegas called 911 and performed CPR until EMS arrived. EMS transported her to hospital. On arrival at the hospital Emily Viegas was pronounced dead.
This tragedy was not necessary. Had the pandemic been managed effectively by the government, Emily’s death and the deaths of so many other Ontarians could have been avoided.
Brampton, where the Viegas family lives, is at the epicentre of the pandemic in Ontario. The COVID-19 positivity rate in the city is astonishingly high at 22 per cent. This is in large part due to the high number of essential workers in the city, many of whom live in crowded housing with little space to socially distance. Brampton Civic Hospital is one of the most strained in Canada and is over capacity. While other cities in Ontario have had many pop-up vaccination clinics in hot-spot communities, Brampton only has one such clinic. This has meant reduced vaccination rates in one of the worst hit cities in the country. This catastrophe is directly the result of the policy choices of the Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) government. The choice not to prioritize Brampton for vaccination, the choice to keep non-essential workplaces open, and the continued refusal to grant workers paid sick days all contributed to Emily Viegas’s death.
The provincial government’s response to Emily Victoria Viegas’s death has been downright insulting. On April 26, the provincial legislature had a minute of silence in memory of Emily. Immediately after this, the house voted down a bill that would have guaranteed 10 paid sick days to every worker in the province. This was the 23rd time a bill for paid sick days has been voted down since March 2020. Clearly, the PCs do not actually care about the deaths of children of working class families.
Additionally, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott is being decried for her insensitive response and blatantly false comments regarding Emily Viegas’s death. “I’m sure all of us are sending our sincere condolences to her family,” Elliott said. “She was just starting out in her life. And it is a tragic situation that she passed away. However, we all need to remember that we’re working as hard as we can to bring vaccinations to as many people as possible.” When asked about Brampton’s lack of vaccines and vaccine clinics, Elliott stated, “There is no suggestion that they’re receiving any less support than they’re entitled to.” This illustrates the absolute callousness of Elliott and the PCs.
Ford and his government have completely failed at every turn to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of taking actions that would actually curb the spread of the virus, they have prioritised the profit margins of corporations. The Ontario PCs have blood on their hands and show no sign of changing soon. We must act now to end the deaths! Labour organizations must join the fight and organize mass work refusals in response to the deadly working conditions. Working class organizations must actively fight for paid sick leave, double hazard pay for essential workers, and the closure of non-essential businesses with full compensation for the workers. Only the working class can save Ontario. Only the working class can stop the deaths.
Sign the Ontario Coalition Against Ford’s open letter to call for working class organizations to fight for paid sick leave, double hazard pay for essential workers, and the closure of non-essential businesses. Email OntarioCoalitionAgainstFord@gmail.com to get involved in the campaign. Join Fightback to fight to end capitalism once and for all!