Health officials in Halton Region say Ontario’s second coronavirus-linked death, a Milton man in his 50s, is a case of community transmission.
“At this time what we know is that the individual did not travel outside of Canada recently nor was he a contact of a known case of COVID-19,” Dr Hamidah Meghani, Halton’s Medical Officer of Health, said at a news conference on Thursday.
An additional 43 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Ontario on Thursday, bringing the provincial total to 257 including at least one death and five resolved cases. The province remains under a state of emergency.
Meghani said the man had an underlying health condition, and that he had been initially been treated at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, but was transferred yesterday to Milton District Hospital where he died the same day.
“We need to act now, this is the tragic proof that we need to work together to slow down the spread of COVID-19, not only as individuals but as a community, we need to take this seriously,” Meghani said.
“Gatherings and parties can wait, play dates can wait, some of your errands can also wait, allow your life to pause. Focus on what is important.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province’s coroner will investigate to confirm whether or not coronavirus was the main cause of the man’s death.
Concerns over waits for test results
The number of cases under investigation in the province stands at 3,972. Health professionals told CBC Toronto on Wednesday that the wait period for test results in the province is currently between five and seven days.
This means the new infection numbers being reported each day actually represent the spread of the virus several days ago, raising questions about the actual current rate of transmission.
One of the new Ontario patients, a man in his 80s in Durham Region, is hospitalized.
But information on whether people are self-isolating or hospitalized, their ages and regions, as well as how they were infected, is listed as “pending” for more than half the new cases.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, will speak to reporters at 3:00 p.m., while local Toronto officials will hold their own news conference at 3:45 p.m.
Updated numbers are expected from Ontario Public Health again at 5:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Elliott announced that following technical difficulties with the Telehealth Ontario line, the province has added an additional 1,300 lines. There are now more than 2,000 lines available at the service.
Emergency bill expected today
The Progressive Conservative government is expected to pass emergency legislation today aimed at protecting workers who are forced to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford promised the bill earlier this week and said it will apply to employees under investigation, supervision or treatment for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Workers in isolation or in quarantine and those who need to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19, including for a school or daycare closure, would also be protected by the bill.
At the news conference with Elliott, Ford said that other measures the province is taking include:
- Grocery stores and pharmacies will be allowed to receive deliveries 24/7, regardless of municipal noise regulations.
- Temporary suspension of requirement to renew driver’s licences, licence plate stickers and health cards. Ontarians can use expired documents for the time being.
Ford also said he has been in talks with auto manufacturers in Ontario, so that companies may be prepared to switch over their line capacity to produce ventilators should the health-care system run out.
According to Elliott, the province currently has 500 ventilators at the ready in addition to those already in hospitals.
Only 24 MPPs to vote
The Ontario government house leader says he expects the bill to pass with unanimous consent from all parties to get it through quickly.
In the name of social distancing, there will only be 24 members in the house: 12 governing PCs, eight New Democrats, two Liberals, one Green and the Speaker.
They will be allowed to sit anywhere to ensure there is enough space between them.
Government house leader Paul Calandra acknowledged the unusual nature of the one-day sitting, but conceded there could be more like it on the horizon as the Progressive Conservative government responds to the evolving situation.
“Like everybody else, I hope that this is resolved very quickly,” he said. “But until the medical officer of health tells us otherwise, this could be the new norm for the Ontario legislature for the foreseeable future.”
He said the government has taken the unusual step of giving the opposition in-depth briefings and taken some suggestions to amend the legislation.
Calandra said the government will also introduce and expects to pass a second bill to enable municipal councils to met by teleconference during the pandemic.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her party will support the expedited passage of the bill but is disappointed it will not contain more protections for workers.
“Ultimately, the measures being agreed to can only be seen as a small first step,” she said in a statement.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he, too, will support the bill.
“In times like this, politicians must put partisanship aside to unlock support and assistance for people,” he said.
“We’ve heard anything from weeks to months,” he said.
“We know this is a difficult and extraordinary time in which Canadians are taking difficult and extraordinary measures, and we will continue to do that until Canadians are safe.”
TTC reports 1st COVID-19 case in employee
The Toronto Transit Commission, which operates the city’s public transit network, reported this morning that one of its workers has tested positive for COVID-19.
According to TTC CEO Rick Leary, the employee works at the agency’s Duncan Shop, where buses are repaired and overhauled. The employee went to work on March 11 after returning from travel and was sent home sick. They have not returned to work since, Leary said in a statement.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have asked all impacted shop employees to self-isolate until March 25, and return to work on March 26 if they have no symptoms,” Leary said. The order affects between 130 and 170 people.
Tourism industry hit hard
Ontario’s tourism industry says it is already feeling significant impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak.
A recent survey commissioned by the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) found some accommodation businesses already reporting a threat of massive layoffs and bankruptcy. Hotel reservations have seen an 80 per cent drop while travel operators reported mass cancellations of bookings, the survey found.
“We’re hopeful that there will be immediate significant economic support to both small and large operators,” said Beth Potter, President and CEO of TIAO. “The announcements from government are encouraging but we need the detail behind the support packages and the implementation plans urgently.”
The data for the study was collected between March 12th-March 16th.