Premier remains in isolation after negative COVID-19 test

Premier remains in isolation after negative COVID-19 test

Premier Doug Ford is in isolation following close contact with a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19.

The premier tested negative after learning that the staff member was at risk of exposure. That staff member tested positive Tuesday evening, according to a statement from the premier's office.

"While his test results have returned negative, the premier will follow all public health advice for close contacts of positive cases, including isolating. He will do so in Toronto," spokesperson Ivana Yelich stated. She added that premier's office staff members who were also close contacts of the individual who tested positive will also isolate, and that the office is looking for further guidance from Toronto Public Health.

It's just the latest development in a tumultuous eight days for the government, which has seen it backtrack on multiple key pandemic response policies, record COVID-19 case numbers, extend the stay-at-home order two weeks and suffer a precipitous drop in the polls.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca accused the premier of being in the "witness protection" program Tuesday morning, as he hadn't been publicly seen since the Friday afternoon announcement that banned playgrounds, expanded police powers and didn't contain additional support for essential workers. The playground portion was walked backed, and the police powers were "refocused."

Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Tuesday that the premier was focusing his attention on trying to procure additional vaccines from abroad.

While the premier wasn't in question period the past two days, the statement from the premier's office indicated he left the legislature as soon as he learned he was at risk of exposure.

Ford received his first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine 10 days before the contact with the positive individual.

It's just the most recent COVID-19 scare at Queen's Park. NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown, who was partially vaccinated, said that she tested positive for COVID-19 and had a mild case. Berns-McGown believes that she picked up the virus from someone in the legislature. Other MPPs have had to isolate at various points throughout the pandemic, including Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy and NDP education critic Marit Stiles.

Yelich stated that Ford will maintain a regular work schedule while he isolates. "The premier will continue leading this government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic while in isolation, including briefings with officials and communicating with the public."

The isolation of the premier comes at a critical time. The PC government has faced a torrent of bad news, and the health system crisis and accompanying public drubbing have left staff demoralized. A new poll from Innovative Research shows the PCs down five percentage points to the Liberals, 35 per cent to 30 per cent. The NDP are at 26 per cent. The poll was the first one conducted after the Friday announcement and it also showed that in one week, disapproval of the government's handling of the pandemic went up eight percentage points to 59 per cent, and approval dropped six percentage points to 30 per cent.

There has also been a question about adjourning the legislature early — possibly Wednesday — with the NDP objecting to the idea raised by the government on the grounds that the PCs are trying to duck accountability during a difficult time.

The NDP's Suze Morrison said that the incident should highlight the importance of paid sick days, a pandemic measure the PC government has balked at thus far, although it opened the door to the idea on Tuesday.

PC MPP Rudy Cuzzetto wished the premier and staffer well, including a speedy recovery.

David Hains

QP Briefing Reporter

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