by Christopher Guly
OTTAWA, April 26 (Xinhua) -- As Canada moves to slowly reopen businesses shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic to kick-start a significantly hobbled economy, the great challenge that lies ahead is to quickly fix the country's shattered long-term care residential system for seniors.
In Canada's second-largest and French-speaking province of Quebec, about 80 percent of the 1,340 COVID deaths reported as of Friday were attributed to residents of nursing or retirement homes.
On April 13, Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, told reporters at the government's daily COVID-19 briefing that "close to half of the deaths that we're tracking are linked to long-term care facilities." The number of overall related deaths then was 734.
As of Saturday evening, the COVID-19 death toll reached 2,465, many of whom are presumed to be seniors in care based on earlier projections from Canada's Public Health Agency.
"What we're witnessing in long-term care facilities across the country is extremely troubling (and) unacceptable," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday.
Earlier this month, the local newspaper Montreal Gazette reported the scene at a privately run seniors' residence in Dorval, a neighboring city to Montreal, patients were found "dead in their beds."
Residence Herron also grossly underrepresented the pre-Easter death toll of two of its residents when a worker told the Gazette the number was 27. As of last week, 33 seniors had died and at least 75 percent of the residents were reported COVID-positive.
The Quebec government has taken control of the facility, where "gross negligence" occurred, said province's Premier Francois Legault, who requested, and will receive, 1,000 Canadian soldiers to help staff at the province's long-term care institutions, which face a severe shortage of nurses and widespread COVID-19 outbreaks.
Ontario, Canada's most populous province with some 14 million residents, is also receiving help from the Canadian military at five of its hardest-hit, long-term care homes.
As of Friday, 625 COVID-19 deaths had been reported in the province's nursing homes, a fatality count that represented nearly 80 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Ontario, according to the provincial government.
But unlike the governments of Quebec and the west-coast province of British Columbia, where more than half of the 100 people who have died of COVID-19 were residents of care homes, Ontario's government has not taken control of nursing facilities in crisis.
"My heart breaks for the people and the families," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said last week about his province's long-term care system.
The epidemic of seniors-in-care deaths in Canada has become the country's greatest casualty during the global pandemic.
Trudeau said at his daily briefing last Thursday that the country needs to "do better" and care for the elderly "properly."
The prime minister added that "in Canada, we shouldn't have soldiers taking care of seniors."
"Going forward in the weeks and months to come, we will all have to ask tough questions about how it came to this," he said. Enditem