Hospitals in Ontario are being asked to scale down elective surgeries to “preserve capacity” in response to the novel coronavirus.
“In consultation with the Ontario Hospital Association, we’re asking hospitals to further implement pandemic plans by carefully ramping down elective surgeries,” Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a tweet Sunday afternoon just before 4:30 p.m. ET.
“Doing so will help preserve capacity to respond to #COVIDー19. A statement will follow shortly.”
In a statement released a short while later, Elliott said the province has been “diligently monitoring” the spread of COVID-19 and taking action to “ensure the province’s healthcare system is ready for any scenario.”
“At the same time, we must also carefully consider how to best maximize resources and prioritize services,” she said.
As a result, Ontario is asking all hospitals to “further implement pandemic plans by carefully ramping down elective surgeries and other non-emergent clinical activity.”
“In doing so, hospitals can preserve capacity as cases of COVID-19 continue to grow in Ontario,” Elliott said in her statement.
The province is requesting hospital to follow three “guiding principles,” including using ethical decision-making, developing and preserving capacity in the health-care system, and preventing “high risk” transmission.
“The approach that we are taking will provide the necessary discretion for hospitals to make decisions based on local circumstances, while preserving the ability for the province to take a more prescriptive approach, should it be warranted based on evidence,” Elliott said.
The announcement came shortly after Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that Canadians need to take “strong action” to prevent further spread of the virus, which has so far claimed one life in Canada.
As of the afternoon of March 15, 313 Canadians have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and cases have been confirmed or presumed in each of the 10 provinces, said Dr. Tam.
As of 5:30 p.m. ET March 15, there were 145 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario, including five that have been resolved.
According to Ontario’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage, the province has been working with the health care system to monitor hospitals for any potential cases; flagged the novel coronavirus as a disease reportable under provincial health law; and met with hospitals and paramedics near Toronto Pearson Airport to inform them of border screening measures.
Earlier Sunday, all planned events at Ontario Parks were also cancelled until further notice, with public Ontario Parks buildings — like visitor centres — shutting down.
A statement by the province says this was in response to the provincial chief medical officer’s recommendation to “immediately suspend large events and public gatherings of over 250 people.”
Concerned about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
Visit full COVID-19 coverage on Global News.
— With files by Global News reporter Kerri Breen