Canada’s COVID-19 Death Toll Surpasses 4,000; Feds Announce Help for Farmers

May 5, 2020 Updated: May 5, 2020

TORONTO—The number of people in Canada killed by COVID-19 passed the 4,000 mark on Tuesday as provinces eased anti-pandemic restrictions and the government announced new aid for farmers.

The grim fatality milestone came as the country’s two largest provinces each reported a jump in novel coronavirus-related deaths, although the overall increase in new cases was relatively modest. Canada has now seen more than 61,000 cases.

Although Ontario reported no new nursing home outbreaks, the number of deaths passed 1,000, with another 31 residents dying. In all, 61 new deaths were reported, with the province’s total now at 1,361, according to latest government data.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $252 million for an agri-food sector preparing for spring planting and dealing with sharply reduced meat-processing capacity. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture had called for urgent financial help—about $2.6 billion—to protect against food shortages, saying Ottawa had largely ignored a critical industry.

“Food security is a preoccupation for everyone,” Trudeau said. “This is only an initial amount of support.”

Part of the money, Trudeau said, will compensate farmers raising beef cattle or hogs who have to keep their animals longer than planned due to reduced processing capacity.

Trudeau noted that disrupted supply and processing chains have led to an over-supply in parts of the agriculture sector, such as dairy poultry and potatoes.

“We’ve seen significant disruptions in global supply chains,” Trudeau said. “Some producers have no choice but to throw out their product.”

Trudeau called such a disposal a waste of effort and food. To help deal with over-supply issues, he said Ottawa would spend $50 million as part of its farm strategy to buy large quantities of surplus products for distribution to people in need.

The announcement came one day after the Cargill meat processing plant near High River, Alta., reopened after closing on April 20 as COVID-19 swept through the plant. More than 900 of Cargill’s 2,000 workers have tested positive and one worker has died. Their union is asking the courts to stop work at the plant.

New data Tuesday showed almost 7.5 million people have received emergency federal aid that started flowing a month ago. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides up to $2,000 per month to anyone who either lost a job, earns under $1,000, or whose job prospects have been affected by the pandemic.

Across the country, province’s have been taking tentative steps toward returning to normalcy by easing some of the stiff anti-pandemic stay-home and business closure directives. For example, Quebec has allowed retail stores outside Montreal to reopen, while seasonal businesses such as garden centres have restarted in Ontario.

Other provinces are allowing some health services and limited outdoor activities to resume.

One consequence of the stay-home measures has been a sharp increase in people dying in fires, Ontario’s fire marshal said. To date this year, fires have killed 51 people, a 65 percent increase from last year. While it’s not clear how many deaths might have been due to the increase in home cooking, the office did say unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires.

By Colin Perkel