Ontario reports 25 new COVID-19 cases, provincial total at 214

TORONTO — Ontario reported 25 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 214, as the province grappled with difficulties in assessing people as well as a growing backlog of tests.

Technical issues caused few calls to actually go through to Telehealth Ontario — the telephone number the province has asked people to call if they are experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

There were 300 new lines added to Telehealth in the morning, and Health Minister Christine Elliott said that may have caused the difficulties.

"That is being actively investigated right now," Elliott said Wednesday afternoon. "We know how important it is for people to be able to connect with someone on Telehealth."

Tests results were pending as of Wednesday evening for 3,378 people — about double the amount of pending cases the day before.

"It indicates that there are more and more people coming forward to be tested," she said. "I think that's reflective of what's happening in the rest of the world."

Ontario currently is able to do about 2,000 tests per day, and is working toward 5,000 a day, said Premier Doug Ford.

Ford, who declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, said the province will spare no expense to help Ontarians through this difficult time.

"The reality is the issues we face today will not be the issues we face tomorrow, but we will remain vigilant," he said.

"We will remain strong and most of all we will remain united."

Elliott also announced Wednesday that merging the Local Health Integration Networks into the province's new super agency, Ontario Health, is being postponed in light of the pandemic response.

The legislature is being recalled Thursday for an emergency session to introduce a bill to ban employers from requiring sick notes for those in self-isolation or quarantine. It would also ensure protected leave for workers who have to take unpaid time off for those reasons.

The government also plans to table a bill which will enable municipal councils across Ontario to met by teleconference during the pandemic.

The government house leader said he expects both bills will pass with unanimous consent from all parties to get them through quickly.

In the name of social distancing, there will only be 24 members in the house: 12 governing Progressive Conservatives, eight New Democrats, two Liberals, one Green and the Speaker. They will be allowed to sit anywhere to ensure there is enough space between them.

The legislature is then expected to be suspended until March 25, two days later than it was previously set to return after March break.

All of Ontario's new cases are in people who are in self-isolation. Most of those people have a recent travel history, to places such as the United States, the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe, or they are close contacts of other confirmed cases.

Transmission information is listed as "pending" for four of the new cases.

The 214 total includes one person who has died and five who have been completely cleared of the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2020.

Allison Jones and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated that the province declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. It was Tuesday.