Ontario Premier Doug Ford is followed by Health Minister Christine Elliott as he arrives to answer questions following a meeting of all party leaders and health experts at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Wednesday March 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said all Canadians must pull together to get through the COVID-19 crisis.

Ford is in Ottawa to take part in meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, provincial and territorial premiers and Indigenous leaders.

The agenda was set to focus on economic issues, including the impact of tumbling oil prices on the national economy and the pressing need for critical infrastructure. However, the global coronavirus outbreak has jumped to the top of the agenda.

“Moments of urgency require us to put aside our differences, have each others’ backs, stick together as a country and reassure the people of Ontario and the people of Canada that we’re all in this together,” he said during a news conference in the capital.

Ford thanked front-line public health officials for preparing the province for “every single scenario possible.”

He also said thanks to Trudeau for pledging $500 million to the provinces and territories as part of a $1-billion coronavirus response package to help governments boost health-care services.

Today the Ontario government announced further steps to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, including enhanced access to screening, expanded lab-testing capacity and new initiatives to protect Ontario residents and front-line health workers.

On Wednesday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said experts have suggested the coronavirus could infect 30 to 70 per cent of the population. 

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said emergency planning is underway to protect individuals and ensure all government departments remain operational.

“We are prepared for any eventuality,” she said.

Ford said the coronavirus crisis underscores the need to build stable, resilient health-care systems, and said he is joining other premiers in renewing a call for a 5.2 per cent boost in federal transfers to ensure systems are “ready for any future challenge.”

He also said that in times of fiscal uncertainty such as this, history has shown it is prudent to get projects off the ground to stir the economy. Ford said he would push for a federal commitment to fund hundreds of infrastructure projects in Ontario, including a major subway expansion project in Toronto.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the first ministers’ meetings must be sharply focused on the economy.

“We need this government to get refocused on the economy — enough about dealing with every fashionable issue out there and the virtue-signalling and the UN Security Council and all the rest of it,” he said Wednesday.

“We are facing an economic crisis in Canada and we need the national government to act accordingly with total focus on that issue.”

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