Ottawa meeting with UN official leads several MPs to test, self-monitor, and self-isolate for COVID-19
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and several other MPs took steps to protect their health after learning that a UN official they had all met in Ottawa in mid-March had tested positive for COVID-19.
Morneau and an unknown number of MPs from all parties met David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, either at some Parliament Hill receptions on March 11 or when Beasley testified the next day at the House of Commons committee that deals with international human rights. Morneau had a separate meeting with Beasley.
Beasley announced on March 19 he had tested positive for COVID-19 and, at the same time, said that his symptoms began appearing two days after he returned to his home in the United States from his official visit to Ottawa.
Beasley’s announcement set off a chain reaction among several MPs that were in contact with him.
Morneau received advice from Global Affairs Canada officials who advised him to self-monitor for any symptoms.
The Beasley visit and its subsequent fallout underlines how social the business of politics is, and how that business — like so many other kinds of business — has been forced to make radical changes.
For example, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health will meet Tuesday afternoon but will do so by teleconference with journalists and interested members of the public listening in via audio webcast.
Maéva Proteau, Morneau’s press secretary, said Friday that the finance minister remains in good health and has not exhibited any symptoms.
But one of the MPs Beasley met with was Brampton West MP Kamal Khera. Khera announced on March 25 she had tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the only MP so far to be diagnosed with COVID-19. A spokesperson for Khera said it would be impossible to say where she may have contracted the virus.
Another MP who met Beasley, New Democrat Heather McPherson (Edmonton—Strathcona), took a COVID-19 test Wednesday on the advice of public health officials. McPherson, who went into self-isolation as soon as she learned of Beasley’s diagnosis, had experienced a minor cold but otherwise reports feeling fine. She continues to wait for the results of her test.
As soon as Beasley disclosed his diagnosis, the House of Commons sent an email to all MPs saying, “If you were in close contact with Mr. Beasley on March 12, it is recommended that you self-isolate until further direction is received from Ottawa Public Health. If you were in the room during the committee meeting, it is recommended that you self-monitor for symptoms.”
Some MPs acted on those instructions in different ways.
“I followed that advice, self-monitoring for symptoms and practising distancing as everyone should, but not self-isolating because I was not in close contact with him,” said Conservative MP Garnett Genuis. Genuis is also a member of the human rights committee and, other than posing in a picture with him — with four MPs were standing between him and Beasley — had no close contact with him. ” I have not experienced any symptoms.”
Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi (Pierrefonds-Dollard), another member of the committee, did the same thing — self-monitoring — and has consulted a physician.
The committee chair, Liberal Marwan Tabbara (Kitchener South—Hespeler) as well as committee member Conservative MP David Sweet (Flamborough—Glanbrook) put themselves in self-isolation.
Tabbara did so after receiving the email from the House of Commons. Sweet was notified by Conservative MP Mike Lake (Edmonton—Wetaskiwin) on March 19 about Beasley’s diagnosis and went into self-isolation after consulting the Government of Ontario’s self-assessment site.
Lake and Conservative MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert) had both attended the March 11 Parliament Hill reception. Both subsequently self-isolated.
Hoback then developed a sore throat and contacted local public health officials who instructed him to be tested. Hoback received his test result on March 24 and it, too, was negative.
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