Premier Doug Ford took questions from reporters on Thursday after his government announced a fiscal update that would more than double the size of the current deficit to fight the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak wreaking havoc on the province's health and economy.
Protective gear rationing
“There is no rationing of personal protective equipment right now for front-line workers,” Elliott said. “If they need the masks, they will get the masks.”
Asked what else she would call limiting the number of masks being provided to health-care workers, Elliott said, “I would say that those decisions are being made by hospitals. We are sending them PPE. The hospitals are making the decisions with respect to what their front-line health-care workers need.”
Elliott noted that governments around the world are all looking to get their hands on more protective gear, Ontario included.
With nearly 11,000 Ontarians still waiting for test results, Ford was asked how close the province is to reaching its goal of 5,000 tests per day, which Elliott had said she hopes to hit by Friday.
Ford said the private sector will help with testing, as well as universities with lab capacity. You can read more about that here.
“As I told our procurement department, there’s rules when we aren’t at war and there’s rules when we are at war. And we’re at war right now,” he said. "So we have to make sure we follow procedures, but no more waiting around. No more taking days to make a decision. We're making decisions now minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour to make sure that we expedite anything we need to increase the lab capacity, increase procurement capacity. All hands on deck."
The premier exploded on people and businesses engaged in price gouging during the pandemic, specifically calling out gourmet grocer Pusateri's for selling containers of Lysol wipes for $29.99.
“That’s disgusting. Absolutely disgusting,” he said.
Ford promised to make that type of price gouging illegal.
"A message to anyone who price gouges: we're coming after you. We're going to come after you hard. I'm going to protect the people of this province," he said.
“If you plan on gouging we’re going to catch you and you will be charged,” he later added.
In a statement, Pusateri's apologized and promised to refund people who bought the overpriced wipes.
"While no excuse, our stores are facing immense pressure on all levels of the operation. As a result of this mounting pressure, critical elements were overlooked including the incorrect pricing of this product," CEO Frank Luchetta said in the statement.
Cancer surgeries delayed
Cancer surgeries have been delayed for some patients as hospitals prepare for a crush of COVID-19 patients.
Elliott stressed that decisions about individual surgeries are made between doctors and Cancer Care Ontario based on hospitals' particular needs and the severity of each patient's case.
Calling it a "very serious issue," Elliott said, "I'm sure it's very distressing for people who have cancer to have some of their surgeries delayed. But we absolutely need to create capacity in our hospitals to make sure that we will be ready to have a number of patients that need to be admitted with COVID-19."
Other provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, are sending residents direct payments to help them through the crisis. Ford was asked why Ontario has not done that, aside from sending $200-per-child cheques to families affected by school closures ($250 for children with special needs).
Ford said he spoke to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney yesterday about that, but handed the mic to Finance Minister Rod Phillips to answer.
Phillips touted the parental payments, as well as increasing payments under the Guaranteed Annual Income System for low-income seniors.
"Our objective is to fill in the spaces and the gaps where the federal government is not able to," he said.
Asked about a rent freeze, Ford said again that if Ontarians are faced with a choice between buying food and paying rent, they should buy food. He reiterated that no one will be evicted during the crisis, per a provincial order.
He also took aim at the growing movement to not pay rent on April 1, with the goal of forcing more supports for renters during the pandemic.
“Please, if you have a job, do not take advantage of this,” Ford said. Not paying rent if one has the capacity to is “just wrong," he added.
Ford promised an education plan within "the next few days" as schools remain closed during the pandemic.
In the meantime, Ford plugged the province's suite of online learning tools. He said he won't rush kids back to school during the COVID-19 crisis.
"We always have time in life to learn, but when it comes to health, I will not put them back in jeopardy and harm's way," he said.
Ford was asked about the potential of placing a moratorium on children aging out of the child welfare system during the pandemic. He did not directly answer the question, but repeated his promise to spare no expense to help Ontarians. As he did a few times during the presser, he noted that the federal government has more fiscal capacity than the province.
“I always say they have the printing machine, that can print the money. We don’t,” Ford said. "But I will spend every single penny to make sure we protect the people of this province for the health and the economy of this province."