Ontario health officials announced four new cases of the novel coronavirus Monday, bringing the total in the province to 35, but the health minister said she is not recommending a ban at this time on large, public gatherings.
Christine Elliott said the advice right now from Ontario’s top health officials is that it is not required. The virus isn’t circulating locally. All of the cases have been linked to recent travel or have been in close contacts — such as spouses — of those infected while travelling.
“I think it’s really important that we respond to the situation that’s happening in Ontario and not move according to what other countries have been doing, because they have their own particular circumstances,” Elliott said.
“We do have a plan in place and we will escalate as — and when — we see the need to do so.”
Elliott made the comments moments before public health officials in British Columbia announced a man had died of COVID-19 at a long-term care home in North Vancouver — believed to be the first fatality caused by the new coronavirus in Canada.
Ontario is, however, ramping up screening and monitoring at long-term care homes. The province decided Monday to issue guidance to facilities to put in place “active surveillance,” meaning staff, volunteers, visitors and residents who may come and go are checked for symptoms and asked about travel history.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams said the province is also doing COVID-19 testing on samples from long-term care homes where there is any respiratory outbreak.
He stressed that the advice to the general public about frequent hand washing and other protections isn’t just about people protecting themselves, but protecting the most vulnerable.
“If people are casual about their travel protection, casual about their contact protection and are less than vigilant on staying home when they’re ill and that kind of thing, then we can put that population at risk,” he said.
“By being vigilant, by keeping at that, you can protect them.”
Ontario’s newest cases are a man in his 50s who recently travelled to Germany, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s who were recently in Iran, and a woman in her 30s who is a close contact of another confirmed case. All of the patients have been released into self-isolation.
Premier Doug Ford said Monday that every government ministry is putting together an emergency plan to deal with the spread of COVID-19 in order to be prepared.
“The worst thing to do is put a scare out there, everyone starts panicking,” Ford said during a fireside chat at a tech hub in Kitchener, Ont.
“Even today, half of us didn’t know whether we were shaking hands or fist pumping or head bumping or whatever it might be. But we have to be cautious and we’re all over this.”
Elliott said her ministry has the command in terms of health issues, and the solicitor general’s office is working on issues regarding police presence. There are also back-up plans in place to re-direct certain types of care to other hospitals in case one facility is overwhelmed or needs to be locked down, she said.
Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who is to deliver Ontario’s budget on March 25, said COVID-19 is clearly having economic impacts in Ontario, but it is too soon to predict exactly how it will affect the province’s finances.
“Economic forecasts that the budgets are based on are over a month old and we’re in a very dynamic environment,” he said. “One of the reasons that we’ve put in place the balanced, prudent plan we have is so that we could make adjustments if they were necessary.”
Government House Leader Paul Calandra said if the need arises, he will work with the other parties’ house leaders and the legislative assembly for any contingency plans for the legislature.