'Stronger together': Canada honours COVID-19 victims a year into pandemic
OTTAWA -- Marking a national day of observance to commemorate those who died due to COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says March 11, 2020 will be remembered as the day when life in Canada changed.
Delivering a speech in the House of Commons on Thursday, Trudeau said in a "heartbreaking" year with much loss, Canadians have showed persistence, solidarity, and compassion.
"Every Canadian we lost to this virus will be remembered. Every shift done by a frontline nurse, every mask made by a Canadian worker will not be forgotten. We are stronger together, today, tomorrow and always," said Trudeau.
Thursday is the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the novel coronavirus a pandemic. Worldwide, 118 million people have contracted COVID-19, and nearly three million people have died. Canada has reported more than 896,000 COVID-19 cases to date, with more than 22,000 related deaths.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also honoured lives lost in his own speech to Parliament and recognized the unintended mental health and economic consequences of the pandemic.
"Youth mental health presenting as anxiety or eating disorders are alarmingly on the rise. The true cost of this pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of Canadians of all walks of life has been staggering," O’Toole said.
He also thanked frontline health care workers who he said helped him personally. O’Toole and his wife tested positive for the virus in September, 2020.
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will appear on CTV's Your Morning on Friday, after 8:30 a.m. EST
The Conservative leader took issue with the pace of vaccine rollout in Canada, stating that businesses deserve to know when they can open up shop again. So far, more than two million Canadians have received their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. According to CTV News' vaccine tracker, Canada ranks 55th in the world in population vaccinations.
"Like many Canadians, we’re frustrated by the slower pace of vaccines than elsewhere, but we want the government to succeed for the health and well-being of Canadians so we can get our lives back to normal," said.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet used his time to also recognize teachers, health care and child care workers, and the most vulnerable.
"The pandemic has made the most vulnerable among us even more vulnerable. People who are isolated, who live in poverty, who suffer from anxiety are suffering even more," he said speaking in French.
"Seniors are distressed in many ways as well, they are the most fragile among us."
It was a sentiment shared by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh who has long advocated for better conditions for seniors living in long-term care, where COVID-19 hit hard and made an already grim situation worse.
"It is with great sadness when we reflect on who felt this pandemic the most and who bore the brunt of this pandemic, we come up with the answer that [it was] our seniors, particularly seniors living in long-term care," he said. "It’s a national shame that’s the case."
According to November data from Statistics Canada, Canadians age 85 and older have accounted for more than half of the excess deaths reported amid the pandemic.
HEALTH OFFICIALS REFLECT
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who has become a trusted face since the pandemic began, providing almost daily updates about Canada’s fight to contain the virus, released a statement on Thursday noting how challenging the year has been.
"We have all made many sacrifices and have faced exceptional challenges, from balancing multiple roles and providing critical supports to Canadians in need, to financial uncertainty and experiencing a sense of loneliness and isolation; some have lost family and friends to COVID-19," the statement reads.
Days earlier, Tam expressed optimism about Canada’s vaccination efforts following Health Canada’s approval of the Johnson & Johnson and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military general in charge of the logistical end of the vaccine rollout, told reporters on Wednesday that Canada was moving into its ramp-up phase in the national mass immunization campaign.
In total, by the end of June Canada is on track to receive 36.5 million doses and by the end of September a total of 117.9 million doses of currently-approved vaccines.
Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti told CTV News Channel on Thursday that the past year has given Canada the opportunity to consider revising its approach when faced with a future pandemic.
"If something like this happens again, what can we do better? And I think one of the big things is we used a blunt tool – lockdown -- and clearly that didn’t address all the very important structural inequities such as occupational health and [the pandemic] hitting marginalized people much harder than the rest of the population. It’s very important we address that," he said.
Chakrabarti said the pandemic won’t completely expire anytime soon but he expects it will eventually take a different form.
"Especially in a place like Canada, where we have a temperate climate, we’ll likely see it in the winter time similar to influenza but it’s not going to be something that’s disruptive to our lives."
With a file from CTV News' Rachel Aiello