TORONTO — Thousands of Ontario businesses have answered the call to help manufacture supplies for the fight against COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford said on Saturday as the province extended emergency measures for two more weeks.
Ford said the government has purchased $90 million in medical supplies from 7,500 Ontario businesses that have started producing goods for front-line workers, including millions of face masks and gloves and thousands of hand sanitizer units.
"Ontario businesses have stepped up. We're mobilizing our manufacturing might," Ford said on Saturday.
"Ordinary folks out there are stepping up, rising to the occasion, doing everything they can to support our heroes in the trenches, to support our front-line health-care workers."
Ford's announcement came as the province extended emergency orders until April 23 and health officials reported more than 400 new cases of COVID-19 and 31 more deaths related to the virus.
The government introduced new emergency measures to ease restrictions for hospitals and shelters looking to build tents to expand their capacity, and to allow hospitals to use beds and services in retirement homes.
The premier also said it's too early to tell whether schools will re-open this year, but said he'll meet with officials to discuss the matter.
"That will be a decision we'll be making after we speak to our chief medical officer. At the end of the day, he's going to have the call on this," Ford said, adding that the province is expecting a spike in cases in two weeks.
"The last thing we want to do … is put our kids in harm's way."
The province reported a total of 6,648 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a death toll of 253 on Saturday.
More than 40 per cent of the cases have been marked as resolved by the Ministry of Health.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams said there were less patients in intensive care units than he expected at this point. Saturday's tally of 257 patents in ICU was two patients less than Friday's total.
"We were anticipating that during this week we would see a climb in ICU numbers, and at times even doubling from what we heard in the models about a week ago," said Williams.
"That doubling hasn't occurred."
Meanwhile, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is looking at new measures supporting those who care for some of the province's most vulnerable people, including workers at group homes and long-term care homes.
Elliott said the province is continuing to work on procurement to import protective equipment and manufacture supplies within the province.
She said the province will also try to ensure that workers employed part-time at multiple care homes will be able to find full-time work at a single home to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in multiple facilities.
"We're examining that now to figure out how we can make sure someone is able to get that employment they need in one home so they don’t have move to two or three," said Elliott. "That's going to be a key method of keeping COVID-19 out of long term care homes."
A daily epidemiologic summary said that as of Friday afternoon, 79 long-term care homes were experiencing outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, with staff and residents accounting for more than 1,000 cases.
Elliott added that residents and workers at care homes will also be targeted for COVID-19 screening, as the province looks to conduct 8,000 tests daily by next week.
In Toronto, the municipal government announced stricter enforcement of physical distancing rules.
A press release from the city said police officers will now almost exclusively issue tickets to people gathering in parks and squares, rather than electing to educate residents first.
Toronto has been one of the hardest hit areas in the province, with over 2,000 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in the city.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2020.
Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press