COVID-19’s grim march through many of the country’s nursing homes left more residents dead on Tuesday as the facilities fought desperately to stem the lethal spread of a virus that has prompted crushing restrictions on normal personal and commercial activity.
In all, Canada was closing in on 26,000 confirmed and presumptive cases of coronavirus disease, more than 800 of them fatal.
The virus has hit older adults disproportionately hard, with more than 90 per cent of the deaths among those aged 60 and above.
Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said outbreaks in long-term care homes were the most pressing epidemic problem. More than half the deaths in the country have occurred in such homes.
“These stories are horrifying,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, even as he noted long-term care was a provincial responsibility. “We know we need to do more.”
The virus has hit Quebec the hardest among provinces, both in terms of cases and deaths. About 30 long-term care facilities had more than 15 per cent of residents infected, the province said.
Premier Francois Legault said the biggest problem was the province’s understaffed long-term care centres as he appealed for help from any health-care workers. In an effort to deal with the onslaught, a Montreal hospital said it would set up a special unit. Starting next week, the unit aims to care for up to 25 of the sickest patients from long-term care homes.
Ontario, which was set to extend its state of emergency for another four weeks, reported 43 new deaths on Tuesday for a total of 334. One home in Toronto attributed nine more deaths to the virus, bringing to 25 the number of fatal infections. The Eatonville Care Centre also said it had 49 confirmed cases.
Similarly, two residents of a care home in British Columbia tested positive just days after four staff members were diagnosed with the respiratory illness. The facility is among 20 long-term care and assisted-living homes in B.C. to be afflicted.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, issued an order banning personal-care home staff from working at multiple locations except in ”exceptional circumstances.”
In Ottawa, Trudeau announced that everyone returning from abroad would have to come up with a “credible” isolation plan or spend their mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel.
While acknowledging Canadians were “very interested” to know when the current anti-COVID restrictions might lift, Trudeau said vigilance remained the watchword and no immediate changes were planned. “The reality is that it’s going to be weeks still,” Trudeau said. “We’re going to have to do it in phases.”
Trudeau promised more money for students and essential workers as well as support for those struggling with the payment of commercial rents. He also announced $130 million to help northern communities. Part of the money is to support airlines that serve the North and to defray the steep cost of food and hygiene products.
Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer called on all federal parties to strike a deal for Parliament to meet safely. Accountability, the Conservative leader said, was essential even though he said he supported Liberal government efforts to cushion COVID-19’s economic blow by spending more than $100 billion in relief.
Two emergency sittings in recent weeks occurred with only the bare minimum of legislators in the House of Commons and Senate, but normal parliamentary business was scheduled to resume next week.
Another indication of just how devastating anti-pandemic measures have been on the economic front came from the International Monetary Fund, whose latest forecast predicted Canada’s economy would shrink by 6.2 per cent this year. That is more than double the global retraction, which would be the worst year since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the IMF said.
-With files from Canadian Press reporters across the country.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press