TORONTO — Scores more people in Canada have succumbed to COVID-19, authorities reported Thursday, as one of the country’s major inter-city bus carriers announced it would be shutting down completely due to a precipitous drop in passengers caused by the pandemic.
Of the new deaths, 121 were reported in Quebec, prompting Premier Francois Legault to delay reopening retail stores, schools and daycares in the Montreal area to May 25. Another 911 new cases were identified. Ontario reported 48 more deaths, with 399 new cases recorded over the previous 24 hours, continuing a trend of slowing growth.
Nova Scotia recorded three more deaths, all at a long-term care home in Halifax, bringing the Canadian total to above 4,400 as provinces begin easing stay-home restrictions.
However, the transit action by Greyhound Canada will leave people in Central Canada with fewer ways to travel and another 400 employees out of work as of May 13.
Ridership, the company said, had fallen 95 per cent and revenues plunged. With service cut in Western Canada two years ago and several other routes already reduced or suspended due to COVID-19, the company said it was unable to continue without government money.
“This decision came as a last resort option to address the uncontrollable consequences and devastating impacts of this pandemic,” Stuart Kendrick, senior vice-president, said in a statement. “We will continue our discussions with the provincial and federal governments.”
The closure of bus routes comes along with already drastically reduced commercial air and rail traffic as well as local transit options, leaving cars as one of the few ways to travel any distance.
“It is primarily women, low-income earners, seniors, and many essential workers who depend on these buses,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said as he urged the federal government to come up with the “relatively little” $26 million bus companies say they need to stay in business.
Across Canada, about 65,000 people are known to have contracted the novel coronavirus. The Canadian Armed Forces have deployed more than 1,000 troops in long-term care facilities and elsewhere, but Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan would not say how many members have fallen ill.
Most of the deployed personnel are in Quebec nursing homes, which have been hit brutally by the pandemic, but some members are at five homes in Ontario. Others are helping out in a variety of tasks in remote and rural areas.
Hospital capacity is of particular concern away from big centres, prompting the country’s chief health officer to advise people to avoid heading to their cottages or second homes. Besides spreading COVID-19 into those areas, Tam said a key issue is the potential for too many people in need of medical treatment in places that simply can’t handle a surge.
In Ontario, for instance, Premier Doug Ford stopped short of telling people to stay away from their secondary properties over the upcoming Victoria Day weekend but urged common sense and respect for health advice.
“It’s not the party weekend it’s been in the past,” Ford said. “I’m asking you — please don’t go up there with a whack of people.”
At his daily briefing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would spend $3 billion for wage top-ups for essential workers. The money will go to provinces, which are putting up another $1 billion and will decide who gets extra cash.
Trudeau had previously offered federal wage assistance, particularly for personal support workers and other front-line health staff in light of the devastation in long-term care homes, where most of Canada’s 4,300 deaths have occurred.
Quebec and Ontario had already announced a $4-per-hour pay hike for workers in private long-term care homes and some other facilities, while Saskatchewan is supplementing wages by $400 per month for those working with seniors, in group homes and in child care.
Trudeau said he’s not overly concerned about the huge amounts of money the government is spending, saying cushioning the pandemic’s economic blow is his priority. The global outbreak, he said, has revealed problems — such as the plight of vulnerable workers — that need to be dealt with.
Reported cases globally have moved toward the four million mark, with deaths approaching 270,000. The U.S. accounts for more than one quarter of both totals.
-With files from Canadian Press reporters across the country
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2020
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press