Canada’s top health officer warns against all cruise ship travel as COVID-19 cases rise

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says some provinces face shortages of the supplies they need to respond to the rising number of COVID-19 cases, and the federal government is taking stock of the national inventory of ventilators, protective gear and hospital beds.

During a news conference in Ottawa Monday, Hajdu said federal and provincial health ministers have been engaged in discussions about the collective COVID-19 response — discussions which recently broadened to include the prime minister, deputy prime minister and premiers.

“We are very alive to the fact that some provinces are indicating that they have deficits, and we are gathering that information and we have said all along that we will be there as a federal government to support them with the resources they need, whether those are financial resources or practical resources,” Hajdu said.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam say they’re paying close attention to the availability of healthcare supplies needed to treat COVID-19 in individual provinces. They spoke during a news conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa. 1:39

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland have written to their provincial and territorial counterparts to take stock of possible medical resource gaps ahead of a first ministers’ meeting later this week.

The letter states that all levels of government are readying resources, mobilizing public services and getting prepared “as quickly as possible.” It says federal officials have been taking “critical steps” to ensure public confidence in the health care system.

“We are reaching out to you today to ensure that as a country, we are as prepared as we can be, and to reconfirm for you that the government of Canada is ready to support you and all Canadians,” the letter reads.

“We are already leading a bulk procurement of personal protective equipment in which many of you are participating. We are ready to convene and help. To do so, we need to be able to understand what your challenges may be and how we can best continue to work together.”

The letter asks premiers to report on their state of readiness and on any critical supply or capacity gaps before the first ministers meeting in Ottawa later this week, so the federal government can respond to potential challenges ahead.

As the federal government prepares to bring home 237 Canadians from a coronavirus-hit ship now off the coast of California, Canada’s top public health officer is also warning against all cruise ship travel.

The federal government will repatriate Canadians who are on board the Grand Princess cruise ship, which has 21 novel coronavirus infections among the 3,500 people on board. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

During a news conference in Ottawa Monday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said there are now 72 presumed or confirmed cases in Canada — 34 in Ontario, 27 in British Columbia, seven in Alberta and four in Quebec.

“I’ve asked Canadians to think twice about being on cruise ships. Today, the Public Health Agency of Canada is recommending that Canadians avoid all cruise ship travel due to COVID-19,” Tam said.

“The risk to the general population remains low, but this could change rapidly. We are most concerned for Canada’s vulnerable populations.”

The 237 Canadians are among 3,500 on board the cruise ship, which is expected to dock at Oakland, Calif., sometime today. They will be transported by government-chartered plane to Trenton, Ont., where they will be assessed before undergoing a 14-day quarantine.

Nineteen crew members and two passengers have tested positive for the virus aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which was headed to Oakland this morning after sitting off San Francisco for days.

Dr Theresa Tam spoke with reporters in the National Press Theater on Monday 2:47

During Monday’s briefing, Hajdu and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said passengers will not be permitted to board the airlift if they are showing any symptoms of coronavirus. Those passengers displaying symptoms will instead be treated in the U.S.

Champagne said the cruise company will cover the cost of the airlift, but other costs associated with the repatriation effort will be absorbed by the federal government.

The letter from Trudeau and Freeland also notes the financial impact of the global outbreak.

“The related economic implications resulting from COVID-19, whether those be narrowing export markets, decreased tourism, pressures on the supply chain or dropping commodity prices, are a significant concern and we know that Canadians are not just experiencing this solely as a public health issue,” the letter reads.

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