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COVID-19 in Ontario: Emergency legislation coming today, provincial parks close

The Ontario 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.

Ontario now has 214 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the number of cases under investigation doubling — up from 1,567 on Tuesday to 3,378 as of yesterday. The tally includes one death, while five other cases are considered resolved.

Updated numbers are expected around 10:30 a.m. ET and again at 5:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justrin Trudeau is scheduled to speak to the nation from outside his home in Ottawa at 11 a.m., while Ford and some of his top cabinet ministers will take questions from media at Queen’s Park at 12 p.m.

Opposition supports passage of emergency bill

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 Progressive Conservatives, 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.

The legislature is then expected to be suspended until March 25, two days later than it was previously set to return after March break.

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.”

Calandra said the government has been in discussions with the opposition parties represented in the legislature and praised them for their co-operation in the face of the turmoil.

He said the government has taken the unusual step of giving the opposition in-depth briefings and taken some suggestions to amend the legislation.

“Look, it’s not going to be everything that the opposition has asked for, but we did make some changes,” he said. “But ultimately, they did agree that there would be very reduced numbers in the house, that we would speed up the passage. Debate will still occur, it will be quick.”

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.

He said the legislature is expected to sit for approximately 90 minutes this afternoon to pass both pieces of legislation.

“The Opposition has been working really well with us,” he said. “They understand our need to work quickly. And the government, for its part, also understands the need for Opposition to hold the government accountable at the same time.”

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.

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.

Provincial parks close

The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks says it decided to shutter the parks until April 30 to protect the health of employees and visitors.

Andrew Buttigieg, a spokesman for the parks minister, says staff will post signs at park entrances to notify people about the closures.

He says where possible, park entrances will be gated and buildings locked.

Buttigieg says ministry staff will get in touch people who are in the backcountry or at campgrounds to tell them about the closure.

They’re being asked to leave by Thursday.

The closure includes all aspects of the parks, including day-use, car camping and backcountry camping.

“We understand that spending time in nature is important for the health and well-being of Ontarians,” Buttigieg said in a written statement on Wednesday.

“However, in order to assist the province to further efforts in keeping employees and Ontarians safe during this time, the ministry made the decision to close provincial parks to the public.”

The ministry said campground reservations up to April 30 will be cancelled automatically and a refund will be issued without the typical penalty fine.

CBC

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