TORONTO — Ontario reported five more cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total to 42, as the government announced a $100-million contingency fund to deal with the global pandemic in this province, where it will likely continue spreading.
Health officials said a recent case of a Sudbury, Ont., man who was confirmed to have the novel coronavirus after attending a large mining convention in Toronto doesn't appear to be evidence of community spread, but that is likely a matter of if — not when.
"Unfortunately it probably is an inevitability," said Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe. "Certainly the last 24 hours there's been an up-tick in numbers of cases and cases with different characteristics than before, which is concerning. We're very carefully monitoring it."
The man in his 50s from Sudbury attended the Prospectors and Developers Association in Canada convention on March 2 and 3 in Toronto, but it is not yet clear if he recently travelled outside the country or was in close contact with another confirmed case. He is an employee of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and its Sudbury office has been shut down, the government said.
Yaffe said it's likely the man acquired the virus at the convention, which was attended by more than 20,000 people from many different countries.
"Although the risk in general is low, it seems that's probably where he got it," she said. "We can't say exactly from whom, but to me it's linked to a particular activity in a particular site, so it's not a general community transmission."
Toronto Public Health is also conducting a detailed investigation of the man's activities while he was in Toronto.
Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., which had a "major presence" at the conference, is moving all of its classes online starting Thursday, the school announced.
Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also attended the PDAC mining convention on March 2.
Ford's office said the premier is in good health and not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, and he has not been contacted through the process of contact-tracking for the infected man.
Trudeau said he has not been tested for the virus, but is following recommendations of the chief public health officer to keep himself and his family safe.
One of the other new cases reported Wednesday is in a woman in her 30s from Halton Region, who recently returned from the United States and works as a doctor at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton. The hospital said she saw patients on March 9 before visiting the Juravinski Hospital emergency department, and had interacted with colleagues and staff. Those people are being contacted, the hospital said in a statement.
The other new cases are a man in his 30s who lives in Toronto and recently travelled to the U.S., a woman in her 30s in York Region who recently travelled to Egypt, a man in his 40s in Ottawa who recently travelled to Austria, and a woman in her 40s who lives in Toronto and recently travelled to the U.S. All of the new cases are in self-isolation.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario is in the "containment" stage at the moment, though at some point the province probably will have to deal with community spread.
"It is likely that we will move to the next stage, but we have a plan in place to deal with it, as we have a plan in place to deal with any scenario that presents itself," she said.
Ford announced that Ontario has set aside a $100-million contingency fund to deal with COVID-19, and Elliott said the money will likely go toward buying more equipment such as testing kits and personal protective gear, as well as hiring more health-care staff, if needed.
That is in addition to a $1-billion package the federal government announced to help the country's health-care system and economy cope with the novel coronavirus.
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic Wednesday.
Ontario will have dedicated assessment centres set up within days and is looking at being able to diagnose people at home, as well as whether restrictions should be in place around large gatherings, Elliott said. It's also putting plans in place in case any hospitals have to be shut down because of coronavirus cases, she said.
Ford said he looks forward to discussing COVID-19 plans with the federal government and the country's other premiers at this week's first ministers' meeting.
Five of Ontario's cases have been resolved, meaning the patients have tested negative for the virus in two tests at least 24 hours apart.
Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press