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COVID-19 impact on seniors’ homes ‘far more severe’ than feared: PM

OTTAWA —
As stories continue to arise about the deadly and devastating impact COVID-19 has had inside long-term care homes and seniors’ residences, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it’s clear more needs to be done to protect Canada’s oldest generations.

He said the impact on seniors’ residences and long-term care centres has been “far more severe” than the government “had certainly hoped for, or more than we feared.”

Nearly half of all deaths in Canada are linked to outbreaks in long-term care homes, and 93 per cent of the deaths have been people older than 60 years, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Thursday.

As of when Tam began her remarks, there were 1,048 COVID-19 deaths nationwide.

“We now need to double down to stamp out outbreaks in high-risk settings. If the measure of a society is in how it cares for its most vulnerable, this pandemic has revealed the chink in our armour,” she said.

Trudeau will be spending his evening on the phone with the provincial and territorial premiers ironing out the details of incoming salary top-ups for certain essential front-line health workers, but indicated “more measures to protect our seniors” will be discussed.

“It is impossible to imagine the anguish that families and indeed our elders are going through in this situation. There is so much fear, so much uncertainty,” Trudeau said. “We need to do a better job of being there for them. The federal government is looking at ways to support the provinces as they deal with this issue.”

On Wednesday he announced the federal government was working with the provinces to cost-share a wage boost for essential front-line staff who are making less than $2,500 a month.

In some facilities across the country staff have walked off the job out of fear of not having proper personal protective equipment or because new limits on working inside just one facility have resulted in their incomes being slashed below what they’d earn if they stopped working and collected the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

“The conditions are getting more and more difficult,” Trudeau said of these seniors’ facilities, where numerous COVID-19 outbreaks are ongoing, prompting calls for more infection control measures to be put in place to protect one of the most vulnerable populations in Canada.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday that Quebec—which has been badly hit by outbreaks that are compounding already existent staff shortages—has asked for additional help from the federal government and they are currently exploring what the military or Red Cross could do to assist.

“We are fully seized of the urgency here… We don’t have details to offer at this moment on personnel or tasks, because those need to be worked out but they are being worked out right now,” she said.

Earlier this week the Ontario government announced increased measures to keep vulnerable people in long-term care homes safe, which Premier Doug Ford described as “fortifying the ring” around these facilities. It includes stricter testing and screening measures in homes with outbreaks. 

These measures align with the new national guidelines issued by Health Canada over the weekend. 

Among the infection prevention and control recommendations:

  • Restricting visitors and volunteers;
  • Screenings before shift for staff and before any essential visitor enters;
  • Prohibiting staff with symptoms from coming to work;
  • Wearing masks, and other personal protective equipment;
  • Limiting employees to working in a single facility; and
  • Cancelling any non-essential outings and maintaining physical distance during meals.

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