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Ontario Hansard - 11-March2020

PUBLIC HEALTH


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My next question is to the Premier. This week, the Ford government has repeatedly stated that they have contingency plans in place to deal with everything from increased demands on our health system to disruptions to business to the ability to deliver public services. Will the government start laying out the details of their contingency plan?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: Yes. Of course, there is a meeting that has been established following question period with the leader of the official opposition and the leaders of the other parties to provide, in greater detail, the enhanced measures that are being taken under the plan.

We can’t sit back and just assume that things will continue to be the way they are right now. We know what’s happening in other countries, that COVID-19 is escalating. We are preparing for that. We don’t assume that what we’re dealing with now will stay the same.

We are looking at assessment centres. For example, having people, in very short order, be able to be diagnosed at home—having the public health worker come to their home to diagnose them. We are putting all of these measures in place.

We’re looking at large gatherings, and what we should do about large gatherings. Should we put protective measures in place and prevent them from happening? We are looking at the entire possibility of events. We plan for the worst-case scenario. Of course, we hope it doesn’t happen but, if it does, we will be ready for it.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: I’m certainly looking forward to this afternoon’s meeting, but I believe that it’s really important that the public is provided with information. I think the public having information is paramount to reducing their fears and worries about what’s happening here in our province.

One of the specific areas where people have concerns is in our hospital sector. As the Premier knows, hospitals across Ontario are routinely operating over 100% capacity. People were being treated in hallways and conference rooms before COVID-19 was even a factor here in Ontario. Ontario hospitals say they will need an investment of over $900 million just to stay where they are, which is with the broken system that the Liberals left us with.

What is the government’s contingency plan should a hospital go into a lockdown or quarantine?


Hon. Christine Elliott: There are several issues that were mentioned in the question from the Leader of the Opposition. First, with respect to making sure the public is aware of what is happening, we are doing that. We are being open and transparent with the people of Ontario. Dr. Williams, our Chief Medical Officer of Health in the province of Ontario, holds conferences twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, with information that is immediately available to the public. We are also updating our website ontario.ca/coronavirus twice a day, at 10:30 in the morning and 5:30 in the afternoon, to give people the information they need on where we stand in Ontario with the number of coronavirus cases—of COVID-19—and also the personal precautions people can take. It is very important that people are aware of what they need to do.

Secondly, the leader of the official opposition asked about the preparedness of our hospitals. We have a plan in place that is being discussed on a daily basis at the command table and at the regional tables to make sure that if one hospital has to be shut down because of too many cases of coronavirus or if it’s spreading within that hospital, there are plans for other hospitals to take over the work that’s being done at that hospital. That is happening across the province of Ontario. We want to make sure that if we have a situation where one is in lockdown, others are there to take its place in reasonable proximity to that hospital.

The people of Ontario need not fear about whether the hospitals will be able to handle this situation. They will be, and the plan is set and ready to go.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: When the vast majority of hospitals in Ontario are operating at over 100% capacity, that doesn’t leave us with much comfort, unfortunately.

Ontario’s homeless shelters are another situation that we’re concerned about. The shelters and emergency services for people who are without a home are asking similar questions, Speaker. People who are homeless are already at an increased health risk, as we all know, and that’s doubly true during communicable disease outbreaks.

Nurses and health professionals want to know what the government contingency plans are for this particularly vulnerable population. When can they expect to see some answers, Speaker?


Hon. Christine Elliott: First of all, with respect to our hospitals and the fact that many of them are over 100% capacity, that is true. Again, as I indicated the other day, this is not a situation that we created. That was created in the 15 years before our party took government. But we have a plan in place that is going to reduce that capacity.

With all of that said, we know that there is a plan that will work in all of our hospitals. We are very fortunate in that, in the cases that have presented thus far, the vast majority of people are able to be self-isolated at home—those who have been confirmed with COVID-19—and that should we require more spaces in the future, those spaces can be created.

It is important to note that not every patient needs to be treated in a negative pressure room. That is where people are commonly diagnosed. If they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and need to be in hospital, they can remain in isolation. Isolation spots have been created in our existing hospitals to make sure that we can safely treat those patients who have been confirmed with COVID-19 and the rest of the patients who are there for other reasons.

In terms of people who are in homeless shelters and people who are living on the streets of Toronto, our public health units are working very carefully throughout our entire population to make sure that if people need to be diagnosed, there are places where they can be diagnosed as well as treated. We want to make sure that no person—no person—in Ontario who needs care will go without it. We have a situation set up where every person can receive care. We are working very carefully with our public health units, who are doing a tremendous job in all of our communities.

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