'No gatherings of over 50' among new recommendations announced by officials to curb spread of COVID-19

There are 177 cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, according to the latest numbers from provincial health officials on Monday morning. 

Provincial budget postponed; new legislation coming to help workers affected by COVID-19 measures

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Ontario, the provincial government is still considering whether to take more drastic action and shut down non-essential businesses. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Ontario's top medical official recommended Monday that bars and restaurants, daycares and places of worship close to help stem the spread of COVID-19, as authorities said community transmission can no longer be ruled out.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams told an afternoon news conference Monday that assessment and testing capacity is being ramped up in the province to deal with ever-increasing numbers of new cases.

Williams said all bars and restaurants should close, except for take-out and delivery services. That's contrary to his recommendation from just a few hours prior, but he noted the COVID-19 situation is rapidly changing.

Ontario has already ordered all public schools to stay closed for two weeks after March break, but Williams is now recommending that all private schools and daycares also close, along with recreation programs, libraries, churches and other places of worship.

He said people should not gather in groups larger than 50, in line with a federal recommendation.

"I'd like that to take place as soon as possible," he said.

Ontario's chief medical officer, Dr. David Williams, and Barbara Yaffe, with Ontario Public Health, held a news conference on Monday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

There are 177 cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, according to the latest numbers from provincial health officials on Monday morning. 

That's a jump of 32 cases from Sunday afternoon's official tally. All but nine of those are in the GTA. Five of them have been resolved.  

Premier Doug Ford, along with several cabinet ministers, spoke on Monday morning about measures being considered by the province to stop the spread, as well as new legislation to better protect workers who are forced to stay home.  

Asked about the possibility of shutting down non-essential businesses in the province, Ford said that "everything's on the table" but that for now they are heeding the advice of the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams. 

Premier Doug Ford, flanked by Finance Minister Rod Phillips and Health Minister Christine Elliott, at Monday's press conference. (CBC )

As for declaring a state of emergency, Health Minister Christine Elliott said "we don't believe we are at that stage yet," but that the situation is evolving rapidly. 

Meanwhile, more businesses are voluntarily reducing their hours or outright closing, and stock markets in Toronto and New York plunged when they opened this morning.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has instituted new measures to help the city's business owners during uncertain economic times

Here's a round up of everything else you need to know about COVID-19 in Ontario today:

New measures to help workers

At Monday's news conference, the province gave details about legislation that would ban employers from demanding sick notes for those in self-isolation or quarantine and ensure protected leave. 

"If this law is passed it will ensure that if you are in quarantine because you are experiencing symptoms, or you've been asked to self-isolate ... you will not lose your job," said Ford.

The jobs of parents who are affected by school and daycare closures will also be protected. 

WATCH: Ontario's Minister of Labour announcing plans to amend the employment standards act:

Ontario to introduce job protections amid spread of COVID-19

4 years ago
Duration 0:48
Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister of labour, training and skills development, says the provincial government will introduce new legislation meant to protect employees in the case of COVID-19 work interruptions.

There is currently no timeline on when the legislation may be passed, but Ford's office said he is working with the other parties to get it done "as expeditiously as possible."

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips also said that instead of tabling the 2020 budget, which was set to be released next week, he will put out a fiscal update that is as "current as possible" and which includes a "realistic one-year outlook" given the present circumstances.

"In terms of a full budget, our plan would be by the fall at the latest to release that," said Phillips. 

Ford was also asked about his thoughts on closing the Canadian border. He said he's open to a shutdown on visitors but not commerce.

Early Monday morning, Mayor John Tory also revealed his plan to help Toronto's businesses and residents deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Among the immediate measures: a grace period for businesses to pay taxes and new help for Torontonians who want to apply for employment insurance.

Canada to ban entry to most non-residents 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still self-isolating after his wife tested positive for the virus. He announced today that Canada is barring entry to all travellers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

There will be exceptions for U.S. citizens, air crew and diplomats.

Similarly, Ontario's top doctor will provide an update at 3 p.m., while City of Toronto officials will speak to media at 3:45 p.m. Both news conferences will be livestreamed in this story.

A member of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport's cleaning staff sanitizes an escalator handrail on March 16, 2020, moments after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a travel ban aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Telehealth Ontario resources expanded

To cut down on wait times for callers, the province said Monday they have brought in 130 nurses to help staff the phone line.

"By immediately expanding Telehealth's resources, we can significantly reduce the time it takes for Ontarians to receive the information they need to stay safe and healthy," said Ontario's Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.

Ontario is also working with the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and its 44,000 members to find more support for Telehealth.

Ontario's chief medical officer of health says unless people have severe symptoms or a medical emergency, simply stay at home while waiting for a Telehealth response.

"We understand that people are anxious to get the advice about next steps as soon as possible, which is why the capacity of Telehealth is being enhanced," Dr. David Williams said in a statement.

"But unless you are experiencing severe symptoms or a medical emergency, the best place for you to stay is at home until you receive advice, which will often be to stay home and self-monitor."

Elliott also announced that youth justice facilities have been told to suspend all personal visits and volunteer activities. All "non-essential" leaves for helping youth in custody reintegrate into the community are being restricted.

New closures and warnings

More businesses are opting to voluntarily close down for the time being. 

Some Starbucks locations will be closed, as will all GoodLife and Fit4Less fitness centres. 

As of today, Cadillac Fairview malls — including Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens, and Fairview Mall — are among those limiting their hours to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario is also strongly recommending that non-essential and elective dental services be suspended. 

Border officer at Pearson tests positive

Late on Sunday, it emerged that an officer with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) at Toronto Pearson airport had tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The agency says it doesn't know when or where that employee became infected, but says another group of workers who may have had contact with them are now "self-monitoring for symptoms." 

CBSA is also stepping up its COVID-19 measures, with additional officers, extra signage, and a new requirement that travellers coming from international destinations acknowledge they are being asked to self-isolate upon their return. 

Possibility of community transmission

No Ontario cases have been confirmed by health authorities as resulting from community transmission, though some experts say it's likely that this kind of spread is already underway. 

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, says the province's current cases are all related to travel.

"They didn't get it from a community source yet at this time," he said. 

Canada's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam said Sunday that 25,000 COVID-19 tests have been done across the country to date and there has been a "rapidly increasing" number of cases, particularly in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta.

"Our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow," Tam said. 

With files from The Canadian Press