Canada’s top doctor says resources needed to keep vulnerable, homeless safe

The head of Canada’s Public Health Agency says that resources must be given to people working the streets to help vulnerable and homeless people across the country.

“It is important that resources and support for infection prevention control are in place to protect staff, clients and guests in shelters,” Dr. Theresa Tam said Thursday at the government’s daily news conference regarding the Covid crisis.

Across the country, front line workers on the streets are trying to balance their clients’ needs with each jurisdiction’s social distancing rules to cut down on the spread of the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The virus has killed 1,191 people in Canada and more than 140,000 worldwide.

“Without immediate action there will be more outbreaks and avoidable deaths with broader societal and health implications.”

At the moment governments across the country are focused on long-term care homes where roughly half of Canada’s Covid deaths have occurred.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial and territorial leaders will speak Thursday night about ways to better protect them.

Ontario has issued an emergency order, starting April 22, that will prevent long-term care staff from working at multiple homes. The province has acknowledged some outbreaks in those facilities were the result of staff who work in two or three homes and inadvertently spread the virus between facilities.

Health-care workers’ unions have long raised the issue, saying staff often work at multiple facilities because they’re unable to get full-time positions.

At his daily briefing earlier Thursday, Trudeau said he’ll be talking with premiers later in the day “about how to ensure better protection for our elders in long-term care.”

“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,” he 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. We’re discussing pay top-ups for people who work in those situations because the conditions are getting more and more difficult.”

Trudeau added that there are also “more regulations” that can be discussed to better protect the most vulnerable. He did not elaborate.

One measure the premiers have ruled out, however, is having the federal government invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act, which would give it sweeping powers to override the provinces and restrict the flow of goods and people, among other things.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, chair of the premiers’ council, sent Trudeau a letter Wednesday saying provincial and territorial leaders are agreed that the act is not needed. They believe provincial and federal governments already have all the powers they need to address the pandemic.

Trudeau has said he hopes the act, which he’s called a “last resort,” will never be needed.

Another issue close to the top of the agenda for the weekly first ministers’ conference call is Trudeau’s promise of federal support to top up the wages of personal support workers and other front-line health workers in long-term care homes.

The objective is to encourage more of those essential workers to stay on in those higher-risk jobs, and compensate them for orders in some provinces banning them from working in multiple facilities.

Trudeau promised Wednesday that the federal government would provide financial assistance to essential workers who earn less than $2,500 a month.

“As things evolve we’re hearing from Canadians who need more help, from businesses who need more support,” Trudeau said Thursday. “No one should feel as if they’re alone in this fight. Our government is here to help you through these challenging times.

“So when we hear the program is not reaching as many people as it should, we make changes.”

But the federal government wants to co-ordinate its support with measures taken by provincial governments.

Quebec has already announced it will top up the wages of essential workers in nursing homes.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province will follow suit but first he wants to see what Ottawa intends to offer.

“It’s very simple. These people are working day in and day out and they need to have their wages enhanced, in my opinion,” Ford said Thursday.

“So we need their support, we need the federal support. Yes, we’ll come to the table as well, but I want to see what the federal government has to offer.”

With files from the Canadian Press

Reporter / Ottawa

Originally from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi on the eastern coast of James Bay, Quebec, Jamie has lived in Ottawa since 2015. Trained in journalism at Carleton University, he has worked as a freelance print journalist and as a writer/researcher for the Cree unit of CBC North out of Montreal. Jamie was hired as the reporter/correspondent for the Ottawa bureau in October 2019.