Ontario’s COVID-19 tally rises to 22 with first case from Italy

Waiters stand in front of a deserted restaurant at Piazza Navona on March 5, 2020 in Rome. - Italy closed all schools and universities until March 15 to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus crisis. The government decision was announced moments after health officials said the death toll from COVID-19 had jumped to 107 and the number of cases had passed 3,000.

Ontario has its first case of COVID-19 brought back from Italy as the provincial tally of infections with the new coronavirus rises by two to 22.

A woman in her 50s who returned to Kitchener on Tuesday from Europe’s worst-hit country went to the emergency department at Grand River Hospital with “mild symptoms” and was sent home after being tested and assessed for the illness, the Ministry of Health said Thursday.

The other new case is a man in his 60s who flew back from Iran on Saturday. He went to the emergency room at Sunnybrook hospital on Tuesday before he was tested and sent home.

Both patients are in self-isolation at home and public health officials from Waterloo region and Toronto are tracing their contacts and movements to issue any guidance to people they encountered.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the virus that has infected about 100,000 worldwide and killed more than 3,000 is not circulating locally, as it is in some parts of the United States, Italy, Iran, South Korea, China and other countries.

But officials are preparing for eventual person-to-person spread here.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the provincial government is ready to move decisively should the number of cases and local transmission become a concern.

“If the situation changes we will act accordingly and quickly,” she told reporters Wednesday.

“We don’t believe it’s necessary at this point to escalate anything in terms of protection in parks and large gatherings and so on. However, if the situation changes, we have plans in place to deal with any eventuality.”

That could result in increased expense for the government with a provincial budget looming March 25.

“We anticipate that if we need to escalate then we will have extra costs,” she said. “Right now I can’t say what they would be because we don’t know what situation we might be faced with.”

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips said it’s too soon to say what economic aid the business community might need if COVID-19 takes hold widely in Canada as it has in other countries.

“It’s important first of all that we deal with the public health aspects … but we’ll look at whatever the economic impacts are,” Phillips said, pledging Elliott will be given “the resources that she needs to protect the health and safety of the people of Ontario.

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”It’s early days yet. But, certainly, issues around supply chains, issues around tourism and finally issues around consumer confidence are things that we’ve been monitoring closely here.”

Four of Ontario’s cases have been cleared in two separate tests that came back negative for the virus more than 24 hours apart.

Only one of Ontario’s COVID-19 patients has been hospitalized and was released a week later. In comparison, last week about 750 Ontarians were admitted to hospital with A and B strains of influenza.

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