TORONTO — Ontario is preparing an order to fight what Premier Doug Ford is calling "disgusting" price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the province ramps up its testing capacity to handle the growing number of infections.
Details of the order were not immediately available, but Ford said anyone price gouging after the order goes through will be "done."
"A message to anyone who price gouges: We're coming after you," Ford said Thursday. "We're coming after you hard. I'm going to protect the people of this province and the price gouging, we're going to put this order through cabinet and they're done. They're going to be gone."
The vast majority of companies are taking care of employees and customers during this crisis, Ford said, but he is "furious" that there are some bad actors.
"That hits a nerve, when people are being taken advantage of by companies."
He specifically mentioned Pusateri's, a specialty foods store, that had been charging $30 for Lysol disinfecting wipes, which have been in short supply in many stores.
"That's disgusting, absolutely disgusting," Ford said.
Pusateri's apologized, saying it was a mistake and that anyone who bought those wipes can get a full refund.
"While no excuse, our stores are facing immense pressure on all levels of operation," president and CEO Frank Luchetta said in a statement. "As a result of this mounting pressure, critical elements were overlooked including the incorrect pricing of this product."
The order, already in the works before the Pusateri's incident, would fall under the province's Emergency Management Act, said a spokeswoman for the premier.
Ontario reported 170 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the provincial total to 858. That's the largest single-day spike in cases by far.
At least 12 of the new cases are hospitalized, including two people in their 20s. A total of 29 people across the province are in intensive care units, 20 of them on ventilators, said Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe.
Fifteen people in the province have died, linked to COVID-19.
A new death reported Thursday was that of a man in his late 40s, who worked at a grocery store in the Durham Region, health officials said. He had not recently travelled and it is not yet clear how he became infected.
An inmate and a correctional officer at the Toronto South Detention Centre are among those who have tested positive for COVID-19, the Solicitor General's office confirmed. The inmate was identified by health officials as a possible case when they were admitted to the detention centre and the inmate was immediately placed in isolation, said spokesman Brent Ross.
There is currently a testing backlog of nearly 11,000 cases, which the province hopes to have cleared by early next week.
Ontario said it will begin ramping up capacity to conduct approximately 18,900 COVID-19 tests a day by mid-April.
The province's deputy health minister said daily testing capacity will gradually increase by 3,000 to 4,000 per week as it moves toward that target.
The province currently does 3,000 COVID-19 tests a day, and will increase to 5,000 a day later this week.
"In Ontario, we have taken immediate and important steps to increase our provincial testing capacity," Helen Angus said. "We've partnered with a number of major hospitals and community laboratory sites to assist the provincial laboratory in this effort."
Ontario Public Health will partnering with hospitals, community, and commercial laboratories to increase capacity. In all, up to 30 labs across the province could be conducting tests by mid-April, the government said.
Tests that had been coming into the province's public health lab are now being reallocated to other labs to help clear the backlog.
There are now 72 dedicated assessment centres across the province.
Meanwhile, Ontario's alcohol regulator announced Thursday that restaurants and bars can temporarily sell alcohol with food takeout and delivery orders.
Ford said it was something the industry had requested.
"These folks are hurting so badly," he said. "I think it's a good idea if people don't have to leave their homes."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 26, 2020.
Allison Jones and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press