TORONTO -- Legislators at Queen’s Park have unanimously agreed to pass a motion that would allow them to avoid returning to the legislature if the COVID-19 outbreak worsens.

MPP’s are sitting Thursday for the last time before the March break. They are set to return to Queen’s Park on March 23.

However if the COVID-19 situation worsens, the motion introduced Thursday gives Government House Leader Paul Calandra the power to notify the speaker that the government will not reconvene.

Normally, the only way to suspend the house is to prorogue the legislature. However prorogation itself requires a vote in the legislature.

Hence the special motion put forward Thursday.

The motion required unanimous consent and was supported by all parties.

“Out of respect and concern for the people working in the Ontario legislature, we have agreed to pass the government’s motion to allow legislative proceedings to be suspended if that becomes a necessary step to protect people from the spread of COVID-19,” NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said in a statement.

However he added that his party is “disappointed” that the Progressive Conservatives refused an amendment that would have required the advice of the chief medical officer of health as part of a decision not to reconvene.

“The motion, as written, extends extraordinary power to the government to pause legislative proceedings in ways unconnected with COVID-19 in the future,” Bisson said.

However the motion does stipulate that the special power will expire on June 4.

The move comes as the province ramps up its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Health officials announced 17 new confirmed cases of the virus in Ontario Thursday and more are expected in the coming days.

Health Minister Christine Elliott also announced that the government is opening six coronavirus assessment centres where people can get tested for the virus.

Elliott said the province’s health care system is prepared to deal with a possible worst-case scenario.

In the meantime, a slew of events have been cancelled as public health officials discourage large gatherings in order to try and slow the spread of the disease.

If MPPs don’t return after the break as scheduled, the delivery of the provincial budget would likely be delayed. The budget is currently slated to be tabled at Queen’s Park on March 25.