COVID-19 contracted in office | Hundreds of workers had to be absent for more than six months

Hundreds of Quebecers have been absent from work for more than six months after contracting COVID-19 at work. The Commission on Standards, Equal Opportunity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST) reports that it has had to compensate just over 660 people for long absences, with data highlighting the impact of the long COVID on the job market.

Posted at 5:00 am

Henri Ouellette-Vezina

Henri Ouellette-Vezina
The press

“Between March 2020 and May 2022, 662 workers received income replacement compensation for a period of more than 180 days, whether consecutive or not, because of a work-related accident related to COVID-19.19,” says a spokesman for the government agency, Antoine Leclerc-Loiselle.

Of these, 501 people still received this compensation on May 29, adds Mr. Loiselle. In addition, of the 105,692 “occupational accidents” recorded by CNESST in 2021, 10,742 were related to coronavirus infection, accounting for almost 10% of them.

From the moment the link is made between the work and the infection, CNESST says it compensates the worker “regardless of the duration.” In addition, the wording “COVID-19 long” is not used in the Commission’s classification system. Only the categories “COVID-19” or “Contact with COVID-19” will be accepted.

Officially, an accident at work related to COVID-19 is considered “an accident at work”. “When CNESST reports statistics on accidents at work, it includes both accidents at work and occupational diseases,” recalls his spokesman.

Still a lot of “blur”

Those 662 workers being compensated for long absences most likely represent “the tip of the iceberg,” says Benoît Barbeau, a virologist and professor in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM).

Such a number may seem like nothing, but that many people for six months is an important number, especially since they are official figures. There are others who probably never claimed because they are unaware of the mechanics.

Benoît Barbeau, virologist and professor in the Department of Life Sciences at UQAM

The situation, in his opinion, highlights the increasing presence of the long COVID in Quebec, which the authorities “likely to underestimate” for lack of data. “The problem with this disease is that the criteria that define it vary greatly from one jurisdiction to another. A blur remains because too much is not standardized. We need a common definition based on a set of symptoms after x times,” says Mr Barbeau.

“If we look at all the claims that are made annually in Quebec, it’s not a big number, but it’s not a small number either. The duration of the allowances is particularly important,” estimates specialist lawyer for labor law Me Marianne Plamondon. She also believes a gray area remains intact on Quebec’s long COVID. “It is difficult for the employer to follow the development of all this. And it’s also complicated for the employee to find their way around,” adds the lawyer.

All this is happening against the background of labor shortages. In the UK, where an estimated 10-20% of those infected have symptoms for at least three months, economists have estimated that the long COVID could be partly to blame for the labor shortage.

No portrait in Quebec

At the Department of Health and Human Services (MSSS), spokesman Robert Maranda admits that Quebec is “not compiling statistical data on the number of people who may have long-term illnesses from COVID.” In mid-May, however, the government announced the creation of a network of clinics capable of long-term treatment of both COVID and Lyme disease, two diseases with “similar” needs. “This network is being built up gradually,” says Mr. Maranda.

The National Institute for Excellence in Health and Social Services has also been working “for several months” to develop tools “to help professionals care for patients” suffering from persistent symptoms of the virus. “These tools are constantly being updated. In December 2021, before the fifth wave and the arrival of new variants, it was estimated that around 23,000 people would use the services offered under the pilot project,” the spokesman concludes.

Last July, the DD Thao Huynh from McGill University initiated the long-term study IMPACT QUÉBEC COVID-19. Last year, the expert assessed the health of 200 adults with long-term COVID. The researcher is expected to publish results in July next year.

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