By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – The number of Canadian deaths from the new coronavirus rose by more than 12% to 674 in a day, official data showed on Sunday, and Quebec officials opened a probe into the deaths of 31 people in a seniors’ residence.
The public health agency said that by 11:00 eastern time (1500 GMT), the total number of positive COVID-19 diagnoses had risen to 23,719. The respective figures at the same time on Saturday were 600 deaths and 22,559 cases.
Many of the victims died in seniors’ residences, which health officials say are particularly vulnerable. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters on Saturday that “the situation in long-term care homes is very, very concerning”.
More than half the total deaths have occurred in Quebec, the second most populous of the 10 provinces. The coroner’s office said on Sunday it was opening an investigation into one Montreal residence where 31 people have died since March 13.
“Coroner Gehane Kamel has been mandated to shine a light on the cause and the circumstances of these deaths,” the office said in a statement.
Police have already launched their own probe. Quebec Premier Francois Legault on Saturday blamed “major negligence” and said the owners had not cooperated when authorities first tried to probe reports of problems.
The coronavirus crisis has forced authorities across the country to shut down non-essential businesses and the jobless rate looks set to jump to around 25%.
The Canadian Parliament on Saturday quickly debated and approved a wage subsidy measure worth C$73 billion ($52 billion) to help firms and individuals.
“Many many many more jobs are on the line and through initiatives like the wage subsidy we hope to curtail that significantly,” Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough told CTV television in an interview that aired on Sunday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has addressed the nation every day since the crisis broke, took the day off to spend with his family for Easter Sunday.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)