OTTAWA -- The newly-formed cabinet committee focused on address the government’s response to COVID-19 met on Wednesday as the number of new cases in Canada continued to climb, with its focus on preparing to make "quick decisions" should the spread worsen.

In a press conference following the committee's first meeting, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that since January there has been "scenario planning" underway to assess the global spread and "to give our government options as the situation evolves."

"We have already seen global, economic, and supply chain disruption. And it's important that Canada be prepared for the effects of this new virus beyond those of health," Hajdu said, adding that having this committee will allow for the government to make "quick decisions" on what she described as "a virus that knows no borders."

She said the government is anticipating that there will be a wider-scale outbreak in a Canadian community, though Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the governmental response plan in place "exactly what we need" for the current situation.

In an interview on CTV's Power Play, Hajdu said that while she wouldn’t go so far as say to "stockpile" supplies, Canadians need to also play a role in preparing themselves and their families for a self-quarantine situation if they become ill.

She also said that there could be "significant disruption" to communities and workers, should the virus spread.

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The committee, which was formally announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just hours before it convened, was first reported by CTV News on Tuesday.

On her way into the prime minister's office where the meeting is being held, Hajdu was asked what prompted the committee, to which she responded "just continued preparedness."

The discussion was expected to include mapping out cross-government preparedness and coordination with local and provincial governments in relation to the health and economic impacts of the virus.

The PMO says the committee will complement the work already underway by cabinet's Incident Response Group; the Public Health Agency of Canada; the Special Advisory Committee of Canada’s Chief Medical Officers of Health; and Public Safety Canada's Government Operations Centre.

"It will meet regularly to ensure whole-of-government leadership, coordination, and preparedness for a response to the health and economic impacts of the virus. This includes coordination of efforts with other orders of government," Trudeau's office said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.

Freeland said that there is a "whole of country" effort underway.

"This response will be a national response. We have been working very closely with our provincial and territorial colleagues, and we will continue to do so. And we are united in our commitment to keep Canadians safe," Freeland said.

Other members of the cabinet committee include ministers from departments that are or could be implicated in Canada’s response to COVID-19, including:

  • President of the Treasury Board Jean-Yves Duclos;
  • Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains;
  • Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair;
  • Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages Melanie Joly;
  • Finance Minister Bill Morneau; and
  • Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough

As well Kirsty Duncan, who currently has the position of Deputy House Leader but is a longtime politician and has a PhD, is being brought in to be a "core participant" despite not being a member of cabinet given her expertise on communicable diseases. Duncan wrote a book on the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, and was in Parliament when the H1N1 pandemic was unfolding.

"We continue to monitor very closely and co-ordinate with our provincial partners, with the international community, on the best things that Canada can do to keep Canadians safe and to prevent further spread of this virus,” Trudeau told reporters in Quebec on Wednesday.

Trudeau said that the committee will be tasked with coordinating Canada’s response, making sure that Canadians are “getting the best information,” and monitoring the economic and health impacts.

With files from CTV News' Ben Cousins