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COVID cases surge past 19,000 with 501 deaths; Quebec has most fatalities

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

TORONTO - Canada's confirmed cases of COVID-19 surged past 19,000 on Wednesday, with more than 500 deaths ascribed to the raging global pandemic as Quebec became the province with the most fatalities attributed to the disease.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new measures to offset the economic impact, fresh data indicated Quebec had 175 coronavirus deaths among its 10,000 cases.

Ontario reported its biggest single-day jump — 550 new known cases — including 21 more deaths. COVID-19 has now killed 174 people in the province, 78 of them in nursing homes, including 28 in a single facility in Bobcaygeon, Ont. Premier Doug Ford said he wanted a quadrupling of tests to 10,000 a day.

The battle to contain the pandemic has prompted governments and health authorities to impose or urge increasingly stringent social-isolation measures. As a result, much of the country's commercial and recreational activity has all but ground to a halt.

"Job numbers will come out tomorrow," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday. "It's going to be a hard day."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

To help cope with the precipitous job losses, Trudeau announced the government was loosening eligibility criteria for the previously announced emergency wage subsidies as well as a retooled summer jobs program to help students find work.

Experts say frequent hand-washing and staying at least two metres from others when outside for essential errands is the best way to rein in the pandemic. The B.C. government announced ahead of the Easter long weekend that all provincial parks would be off-limits because it was "too challenging" to ensure safe space between visitors. Manitoba said it was postponing public events marking the province's 150th birthday.

Governments around the world coping with the pandemic that has killed about 87,000 people have been grappling with when to ease the onerous restrictions. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who said mass testing — 20,000 a day — would be needed, indicated his province likely would not let up until the end of May given current projections.

"To be honest, I hope the models are wrong," Kenney said. "I hope that the tough measures we have taken already will allow us to begin gradually returning to normal sooner than that."

Trudeau would only say Wednesday he expected the measures to last "many more" weeks.

"We need to be very very careful that all of the work that we have done ... doesn't become for naught," the prime minister said. "It's going to be very very important to do it in a gradual, very measured way."

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the challenge would be to "restart the economy without restarting the pandemic."

Amid more than one million new unemployment claims as a result of the anti-pandemic measures, the federal government has been furiously rolling out tens of billions of dollars in relief. The airline industry was among those slammed by travel restrictions.

Air Canada said on Wednesday it would apply for Ottawa's wage subsidies to allow it to retain workers or bring affected employees back onto its payroll. The airline announced last month it was cutting about 16,500 jobs, half its Canadian workforce, because of the pandemic.

Ottawa had already unveiled the $24-billion Canada Emergency Response Benefit for people who've lost their jobs, and a $71-billion wage subsidy program for companies that have lost 30 per cent of their revenues. However, initial eligibility rules left hundreds of thousands of without assistance.

The government also said it was hoping to strike an agreement over its wage-subsidy details with opposition parties before recalling Parliament.

To help soothe some of the financial sting, Vancouver-based credit union Vancity said it was cutting credit card interest rates to zero for six months and deferring minimum payments for those facing financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19. Several banks had already cut their credit-card interest rates.

Latest data indicate the number of federal prisoners with confirmed COVID has jumped to 35 out of 199 people tested. In addition, 49 guards had tested positive, their union said.

Globally, almost 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported, more than 87,000 fatal. The United States has more than 420,000 known cases, with over 14,000 deaths — 4,000 in New York City alone.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020.

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