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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Our Elders at risk

BY Will Nicholls May 22, 2020

It seems that Quebec is now the seventh deadliest place in the world for people dying of Covid-19 and related causes – largely because of the concentration of infections in its largest city, Montreal.

While Canada has, at press time, over 70,000 cases and 5,000 deaths from Covid-19, Montreal is responsible for 20,000 of those cases and a little over 2,000 deaths.

Given the empty streets in Montreal, one must wonder why that is. But then certain facts start to stand out. Of the 2,003 deaths as I write, 97% were among people aged 60 or older. Most of those (82%) were people who lived in seniors’ residences.

An exposé by the Montreal Gazette told of one nursing home that tried to cover up the deaths of 31 residents. Some of those may have died because workers there fell sick themselves or abandoned their jobs. Elders who survived say they hadn’t had water, food or diaper changes in days due to a shortage of personnel. That’s a horrible situation to find oneself in. 

The fears of people who work in these homes – often for poverty-level wages in awful working conditions – aren’t surprising as one in five health workers in Montreal are infected with Covid-19.

Premier François Legault was right to ask for assistance in the seniors’ residences. A request for assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces has helped, but more people are needed.

The ongoing crisis shows no sign of slowing in Montreal. And a recent report by Quebec’s Institut national de santé publique raises questions about Legault’s plan to relax social-distancing measures. At worst, it says, opening the city up could cause the death toll in Montreal to hit 100 people a day. 

As it stands, stores in Montreal will be allowed to open May 25. We think – and hope – that is unlikely.

In any case, the figures show that the elderly are particularly at risk. Cree communities have responded well to this outbreak, as the low figures of infection in Eeyou Istchee attest. We are incredibly lucky. It shows that the isolation system for the North is working now, but we must continue to be careful – as the experience in Montreal shows.

Let’s take care and ensure our Elders, and everyone else, is protected.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.