On March 26, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford held a press conference to update the public on the Ontario government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, outlining Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, released yesterday. Premier Ford was joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Minister of Finance Rod Phillips.
Throughout the press conference, Premier Ford and Minister Elliott reiterated the importance of adhering to the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, and following physical distancing protocols. Minister Elliott was adamant that anyone returning to Ontario from abroad must immediately self-isolate and should not make trips to the store or visit with friends and family.
Following Premier Ford’s press conference, the Deputy Minister of Health and Chair of the COVID-19 Command Table held a media briefing on expanding testing capacity in Ontario.
Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19 – Premier Doug Ford and Minister Rod Phillips
Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, released yesterday, includes $17 billion in new support in 2020-21, including $3.3 billion for health care, $3.7 billion for people and jobs, and $10 billion in tax deferrals to improve cash flow. According to Minister Phillips, this action plan addresses the key priorities of supporting front-line health care workers, as well as protecting the health and wellbeing of Ontarians.
Premier Ford confirmed today that the action plan is already in motion. There are 72 new COVID-19 assessment centres across the province and the government is working to increase capacity in the health care system, including 1000 new acute care beds and 500 critical care beds.
Capacity of Ontario’s Health Care System – Minister Christine Elliott
Minister Elliott responded to several questions about measures being taken in Ontario hospitals to prepare for anticipated surges and supply shortages as a result of COVID-19. When asked whether the postponement of cancer surgeries puts existing cancer patients at risk, Minister Elliott explained that these decisions are being made by physicians in conjunction with Cancer Care Ontario to create space in hospitals. Decisions are based on individual patient needs and there is no concern now about losing current patients as a result of surgery delays.
In response to questions about alleged rationing of masks and other personal protective equipment, Minister Elliott said that there is no rationing of necessary equipment. Hospitals are deciding what to do with the supplies being provided and the Ontario government is working 24/7 to procure additional supplies, which are arriving daily.
Additional Measures to Support Ontarians – Premier Doug Ford
Premier Ford was faced with several questions about possible measures to support renters in Ontario. He clarified that the government would ensure that anyone struggling to pay rent on April 1st due to job or income loss from COVID-19 will not be evicted. He stressed that Ontarians who remain employed and who continue to earn income should not take advantage of this and that any sort of rent strike is “wrong.”
Premier Ford was also extremely critical of businesses engaging in price gouging of supplies in high demand due to the ongoing pandemic. The Ontario government will be putting out an order forbidding business from this kind of price gouging.
Expanding COVID-19 Testing Capacity in Ontario – Deputy Minister Helen Angus
Following Premier Ford’s press conference, Deputy Minister Angus held a media briefing on expanding COVID-19 testing capacity in Ontario. Ontario is working towards increasing testing capacity to 18,900 per day by April 17. The province is looking for 25-30 labs, including hospital and community labs, to process tests once the full capacity of 18,900 per day is reached.
Currently Ontario processes about 2,400 tests per day. The government is hopeful that this number will reach 5,000 per day by the end of the week. The current backlog of nearly 11,000 tests is anticipated to be cleared by early next week.