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Ottawa meeting with UN official leads several MPs to test, self-monitor, and self-isolate for COVID-19

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, March 27, 2020. Morneau was one of several MPs who met a UN official who tested positive for COVID-19.
Minister of Finance Bill Morneau responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, March 27, 2020. Morneau was one of several MPs who met a UN official who tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and several other MPs took steps to protect their health after learning that a UN official they had all met in Ottawa in mid-March had tested positive for COVID-19.

Morneau and an unknown number of MPs from all parties met David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, either at some Parliament Hill receptions on March 11 or when Beasley testified the next day at the House of Commons committee that deals with international human rights. Morneau had a separate meeting with Beasley.

Beasley announced on March 19 he had tested positive for COVID-19 and, at the same time, said that his symptoms began appearing two days after he returned to his home in the United States from his official visit to Ottawa.

Beasley’s announcement set off a chain reaction among several MPs that were in contact with him.

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Morneau received advice from Global Affairs Canada officials who advised him to self-monitor for any symptoms.

The Beasley visit and its subsequent fallout underlines how social the business of politics is, and how that business — like so many other kinds of business — has been forced to make radical changes.

For example, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health will meet Tuesday afternoon but will do so by teleconference with journalists and interested members of the public listening in via audio webcast.

READ MORE: Minister of Natural Resources says he has tested negative for COVID-19 after self-isolation

Maéva Proteau, Morneau’s press secretary, said Friday that the finance minister remains in good health and has not exhibited any symptoms.

But one of the MPs Beasley met with was Brampton West MP Kamal Khera. Khera announced on March 25 she had tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the only MP so far to be diagnosed with COVID-19. A spokesperson for Khera said it would be impossible to say where she may have contracted the virus.

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Another MP who met Beasley, New Democrat Heather McPherson (Edmonton—Strathcona), took a COVID-19 test Wednesday on the advice of public health officials. McPherson, who went into self-isolation as soon as she learned of Beasley’s diagnosis, had experienced a minor cold but otherwise reports feeling fine. She learned Tuesday she had tested negative.

A Liberal MP who sits on the Commons international human rights committee, Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa—West Nepean) had developed a fever, cough and flu-like symptoms on March 17 — a few days after she posed next to Beasley for a picture at the human rights committee meeting — but, after consulting with her doctor, was told she would not need a test unless she had come in contact with someone with COVID-19. When she learned on March 20 about Beasley’s diagnosis, her doctor then instructed her to get tested and she did so at one of the Ottawa-area assessment centres established by the province.

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“I have to say that I was very impressed with the professionalism and empathy of the health professionals,” Vandenbeld said in an email. “They had people whose sole job was to go around and wipe down the chairs we sat on as soon as we got up and … to disinfect everything we touched. What a job that must be. Heroes.”

Vandenbeld learned on March 24 that her test was negative.

World Food Programme executive director David Beasley, fourth from the right, met with members of the Housing of Commons committee on international human rights on March 12, 2020. After Beasley announced on March 19 he had tested positive for COVID-19, many of the MPs in this photo took action to protect their own health. The MPs, from left to right, are Garnett Genius (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan), Sameer Zuberi (Pierrfonds-Dollards), Marwan Tabbara (Kitchener South—Hespeler), Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa—West Nepean), Beasley, Heather McPherson (Edmonton—Strathcona), David Sweet (Flamborough Glanbrook) and Sébastian Lemire (Abitiibi-Témiscamingue).
World Food Programme executive director David Beasley, fourth from the right, met with members of the Housing of Commons committee on international human rights on March 12, 2020. After Beasley announced on March 19 he had tested positive for COVID-19, many of the MPs in this photo took action to protect their own health. The MPs, from left to right, are Garnett Genius (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan), Sameer Zuberi (Pierrfonds-Dollards), Marwan Tabbara (Kitchener South—Hespeler), Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa—West Nepean), Beasley, Heather McPherson (Edmonton—Strathcona), David Sweet (Flamborough Glanbrook) and Sébastian Lemire (Abitiibi-Témiscamingue). Heather McPherson

As soon as Beasley disclosed his diagnosis, the House of Commons sent an email to all MPs saying, “If you were in close contact with Mr. Beasley on March 12, it is recommended that you self-isolate until further direction is received from Ottawa Public Health. If you were in the room during the committee meeting, it is recommended that you self-monitor for symptoms.”

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Some MPs acted on those instructions in different ways.

“I followed that advice, self-monitoring for symptoms and practising distancing as everyone should, but not self-isolating because I was not in close contact with him,” said Conservative MP Garnett Genuis. Genuis is also a member of the human rights committee and, other than posing in a picture with him — with four MPs were standing between him and Beasley — had no close contact with him. ” I have not experienced any symptoms.”

Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi (Pierrefonds-Dollard), another member of the committee, did the same thing — self-monitoring — and has consulted a physician.

The committee chair, Liberal Marwan Tabbara (Kitchener South—Hespeler) as well as committee member Conservative MP David Sweet (Flamborough—Glanbrook) put themselves in self-isolation.

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Tabbara did so after receiving the email from the House of Commons. Sweet was notified by Conservative MP Mike Lake (Edmonton—Wetaskiwin) on March 19 about Beasley’s diagnosis and went into self-isolation after consulting the Government of Ontario’s self-assessment site.

Lake and Conservative MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert) had both attended the March 11 Parliament Hill reception. Both subsequently self-isolated.

Hoback then developed a sore throat and contacted local public health officials who instructed him to be tested. Hoback received his test result on March 24 and it, too, was negative.