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Coronavirus: Quebec premier takes ‘full responsibility’ after situation in nursing homes ‘deteriorated’

WATCH: Quebec officials give update on novel coronavirus pandemic.

Quebec’s premier admitted he should have raised the salaries of front-line workers in nursing homes earlier as the province’s coronavirus death toll and case numbers continue to rise.

François Legault, who has repeatedly described the situation in long-term care homes reeling from outbreaks as critical, said on Friday that he has spent days and nights asking himself what he could have done differently.

“I take full responsibility,” he said. “We entered this crisis badly equipped and the situation deteriorated.”

The shortages of staff for nursing homes predated the health crisis by years. Legault said that even though he knew unions would have objected to a divisive approach to negotiating salary increases, he could have forced their hand through a special law or through a ministerial decree.

Quebec hits its COVID-19 infection peak, with the majority of deaths coming from seniors homes
Quebec hits its COVID-19 infection peak, with the majority of deaths coming from seniors homes

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The unfolding crisis has claimed the lives of 58 more Quebecers, for a total of 688 and led to 16,798 cases to date. More than 1,000 people are in hospital, and 207 of them are in intensive care.

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Legault said on Friday that the province’s priority remains protecting seniors in overburdened long-term care facilities.

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There is a growing lack of workers in overwhelmed centres, he added. More than 1,800 staff members are absent due to illness or because they are unwilling to work for fear of being infected as of Friday, according to Legault.

“We are experiencing a difficult situation in CHSLDS,” he said.

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The daily briefing comes as the federal government announced earlier in the day that 125 members of the Canadian Armed Forces will be sent to help affected seniors residences.

“It’s good news,” said Legault while thanking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As the province fights to contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, doctors have stepped up to staff nursing centres following a plea from Legault for help.

At least 2,000 medical specialists and family physicians have come forward to offer help, according to Legault.

Earlier this week, the Quebec government said it was monitoring at least 40 seniors residences due to a high number of cases.

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Peak in cases?

Horacio Arruda, the director of Quebec public health, said he believes the province has reached a peak of cases but not necessarily deaths or hospitalizations.

“However, we have this tragedy in CHSLDs, which is an epidemic that I described as special,” he said. “But when we look at the rest, we hit the curve. The descent is slow because … in particular, in connection with those deaths.”

Earlier this month, public health officials in the province issued projections which showed that the peak in Quebec would be around April 18.

Arruda, for his part, said even Montreal — where roughly half of the province’s cases have been reported — is beginning to “slow down” but that it isn’t the case in nursing homes ravaged by the illness.

“It is as if I were telling you that it is going well, but there are forest fires in specific places that are associated with the CHSLDs, where there is a concentratration of very sick people,” he said. “But the forest fire is going out in the community.”

Quebec weighs easing restrictions in some regions

Legault said he is considering scaling back some of the province’s restrictions in regions outside of the greater Montreal area in the near future.

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This could mean permitting non-essential businesses in some regions to open after being closed for nearly a month, he added.

“We are looking to reopen these regions in an intelligent way, in a gradual way,” he said, adding that the province would have to ensure there is no new wave of cases.

However, Legault said there is “no question” of reopening schools. They remain closed until at least May 4.

The sweeping measures implemented by the government will also remain in effect for Montreal, where roughly half of the province’s COVID-19 cases are located.

Coronavirus: Quebec desperately trying to save lives in floundering long-term care facilities
Coronavirus: Quebec desperately trying to save lives in floundering long-term care facilities

— With files from the Canadian Press