OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other leaders across the country are taking a rare day off from updating the nation on the COVID-19 crisis as Canadians celebrate Easter Sunday.
Yet even as people gather with their families both physically and virtually for the holiday, the pandemic continues to cause pain and grief for many Canadians whose health and livelihoods have been devastated by the illness.
Ontario reported 401 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday as well as 21 deaths, bringing the national total to 23,719 confirmed and presumptive cases and 674 deaths. The federal government and other provinces were expected to release more numbers throughout the day.
In a message marking Easter, nearly one month after the country started locking down to slow the spread of COVID-19, Trudeau commemorated the personal sacrifice and compassion that many Canadians have exhibited during the pandemic.
“This year, as we celebrate differently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Easter’s themes of hope, understanding, and renewal are more relevant than ever,” the prime minister said in a written statement.
“We are seeing great displays of personal sacrifice and compassion during this pandemic. Canadians are protecting their friends and families by staying home. Others are donating to food banks, picking up groceries for friends and loved ones, and going to their jobs so we can continue to get the essential goods and services we need. By doing this, Canadians are showing the true meaning of loving our neighbours as ourselves.”
Aside from chocolate eggs, Easter Sunday also arrived with desperately needed aid for businesses and workers after Parliament approved a massive $73-billion wage subsidy program aimed at helping them survive the economic ravages of the pandemic.
The legislation received royal assent on Saturday night, paving the way for Ottawa to start paying companies 75 per cent of the first $58,700 earned by each employee — up to $847 per week for up to 12 weeks.
The economic program, which Trudeau has described as the most significant since the Second World War, is retroactive to March 15 and available to companies that lost 15 per cent of their revenue in March or lose 30 per cent in April or May.
Trudeau wasn’t the only political leader taking Sunday off after nearly a month of daily briefings and public appearances in response to COVID-19. Quebec Premier Francois Legault and Ontario Premier Doug Ford were also expected to remain quiet.
The day off followed news of a police investigation at a private long-term care facility in western Montreal where Legault said 31 people have died since March 13.
The virus has hit long-term care facilities across the country especially hard, causing enormous suffering among patients, their families and care home personnel.
Legault told reporters Saturday that at least five people at the Residence Herron in Dorval, Que., which is now under government trusteeship, died after testing positive for COVID-19.
Regional health authorities investigated Residence Herron on March 29, three days after word of the first death, and found most of the staff had walked off the job, leaving the facility “deserted” and residents in dire need of care.
Most of the care workers at a group home for adults with disabilities in Markham, Ont., just north of Toronto, also walked off the job after hearing that 10 residents and two staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 last week, Participation House’s executive director said.
Federal politicians and public health officials are promising new measures to further protect care home residents.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2020.
— with files from Salmaan Farooqui in Toronto.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press