TORONTO -- Upcoming jury trials in the province have been suspended due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice says.

The court made the announcement on social media Thursday night.

“Ontario Superior Court of Justice has suspended jury selection for future trials at this time. Jury panels for upcoming matters are being directed not to attend court,” the post reads.

“Jury trials currently in progress will continue, unless the judge orders otherwise.”

The court said it will post an advisory on Friday to lawyers, litigants, witnesses, jurors, media, and members of the public.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General of Ontario said the cancellation of jury panels for upcoming civil and criminal trials is a precautionary measure to keep the public, court users, and staff safe.

"The Ministry of the Attorney General continues to monitor the evolving situation on COVID-19 and we will continue working with the SCJ and other partners on preparedness planning for the justice sector," the spokesperson said.

John Struthers, the president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, said the suspension of jury panels has never happened before, but it is a necessary move to protect the public.

“It’s a very difficult situation, but (Ontario Superior Court) Chief Justice (Geoffrey) Morawetz made the very courageous decision today to suspend new jury panels from coming to the courthouse,” he said.

“You don’t know what you’re going to get on the jury panel.”

Struthers said there could be 400 potential jurors of all health and all ages and putting them together in a room at a courthouse is not practical.

“We have to be very careful across the board,” he said.

Struthers said it is also critical to act now to prevent the virus from spreading in jails.

“They are like sitting cruise ships,” he said. “And they don’t have very good health care in the jails.”

The announcement comes after the province saw an increase in COVID-19 cases. Officials reported 17 new cases on Thursday, including two individuals under the age of 18.

The increase in cases prompted health officials to advise anyone returning from travel abroad to avoid public gatherings and not to visit vulnerable populations such as seniors.

"If you have gatherings of over 1,000, I would prefer that you did not hold those events, that you would postpone or delay those," Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said. "If you have gatherings of between 250 and 1,000 … consult with your local public health."

Ontario has a total of 59 cases, including five recoveries