COVID-19 roundup: The premier sticks by government workers, saying 'I gotta protect those people'

COVID-19 roundup: The premier sticks by government workers, saying ‘I gotta protect those people’

Behind the mask

Premier Doug Ford was asked about concerns from the Ontario Nurses' Association, which has said that some nurses are being told not to use medical masks, and that Ontario needs an estimated 9 million masks per week.

The premier deferred to the expertise and independence of hospitals on the matter. "I can't tell hospitals what to do and what not to do," he responded. Instead of giving direction, he added his opinion. "I can highly recommend that they do give anyone that needs masks, masks."

He also defended the government's action on the issue thus far. "We have millions and millions on order. It's not for a lack of trying. But everyone around the world right now wants the same masks." Personal protective equipment, including medical masks, has emerged as a key issue in many jurisdictions over the past few weeks as the need has dramatically shot up. Multiple U.S. states have been pleading with the president for more resources to fill that gap, and Ford previously issued a call to action to Ontario manufacturers to re-tool to make items such as masks.

Ford also offered some reassurance on the issue, saying "We have enough to keep us going over the next couple of weeks." He also denied that Ontario sent PPE to Quebec, saying that he passed on a lead to Premier François Legault with the name of an Ontario manufacturer that could help.

The premier doesn't want to lay off government workers

Ford was asked whether the government would lay off employees who are not considered essential at the moment, like support workers, in a move that would be similar to what Alberta Premier Jason Kenney did with educational support workers while school is closed. Instead, those workers can collect federal employment insurance.

"Right now, that's an item that we're talking [about] at cabinet," the premier said.

In another sign that he's taking a different approach to COVID-19 than the rhetoric and choices that have thus far defined his political career, Ford indicated that his first instincts on the issue are not to lay off workers to save the treasury money. "I want to pay as many people as possible. It's not their fault they're at home," he said.

He continued, saying that he sees it as part of his responsibility as premier. "I gotta protect those people," he added. "I'm not comfortable with laying provincial frontline people off. I just can't do it to families."

Keep on trucking

Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley asked about a report that truckers have been denied access to use bathrooms when making their deliveries.

The premier did not take kindly to this news. "Have a heart. Open up the washrooms for these truckers," he urged, saying that in this time of crisis they perform a vital service ensuring that people remain connected to their essential goods.

Rent comes due

For much of the province April 1 represents another day to pay rent. But there are significant questions about the ability of Ontarians to pay their rent given widespread job losses.

The premier acknowledged that it's not an easy time. "It's a very difficult situation on both sides," he said, referring to both tenants and many landlords who rely on the income to pay their mortgage or for cashflow purposes. Ford reiterated that people who are able to pay their rent must do so.

But he also urged that people in sensitive situations work with another. "Communicate with your landlord," he said in a message for tenants. But he also said, "You just can't throw people out on the streets," a reference to the fact that the province will not enforce evictions at this moment.

The premier added "this is not a blank cheque" to forego rent, and that people shouldn't take advantage of the situation.

The latest case numbers

Ontario announced 260 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,966, a 15.2-per-cent increase from yesterday. However, the labs processed fewer tests than in recent days, only 3,168 tests in total. The backlog is 4,280 tests.

There have been 33 deaths confirmed and 291 COVID-19 patients are currently in hospital, 125 in intensive care and 82 of them on ventilators. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said at a media briefing Tuesday afternoon he was not sure why there weren't more tests analyzed, and his data shows the hospital and research labs assisting Public Health Ontario's main lab analyzed all of the samples they were given and had the capacity for more.

He said the issue could be either a delay in receiving them from the province's 86 assessment centres, and there will be an uptick soon, or there's been a drop in demand for testing. In that case, the province could expand its testing criteria, Williams said. He also noted there were some positive signs in the other ways the province is monitoring the spread of COVID-19 — fewer calls to Telehealth and fewer reports of symptoms on the online self-assessment tool.



David Hains

QP Briefing Reporter

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