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Feds provide more funds for Indigenous communities as GDP falls

The COVID-19 pandemic’s economic toll came into sharper focus on Friday, while the federal government announced new funding to help remote Indigenous communities cope with the virus.

Statistics Canada announced gross domestic product fell at an annualized rate of 8.2 per cent in the first three months of 2020, even though efforts to contain the novel coronavirus by shuttering businesses and schools didn’t begin in earnest until March.

Meanwhile, Ottawa announced an additional $650 million for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities, in addition to $305 million the feds had previously promised.

“Although we’ve made progress, there are still communities that are not properly equipped to handle a COVID-19 outbreak,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “We need to address that.”

The new money will go toward hiring nurses and purchasing specialized supplies, enhancing an on-reserve income assistance program and building 12 new shelters for Indigenous women and girls fleeing violence.

Remote Indigenous communities are considered among the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

Residents often have no ready access to health care, and many live in overcrowded conditions that make it difficult to isolate those who may have been exposed.

While there have been some isolated outbreaks in such communities, officials’ worst fears about COVID-19 spreading through First Nations have so far not materialized.

The developments came as several provinces announced new efforts to root out the novel coronavirus, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford set to unveil a new testing strategy later Friday.

In New Brunswick, officials were working their way through a web of people who may have been infected by a health-care worker who did not self-isolate upon his return from a trip to Quebec.

Officials have said that before he was suspended from practice, the health-care professional came into contact with 100 people.

A cluster that grew to six confirmed cases on Thursday has led to the adjournment of the New Brunswick legislature and the rollback of reopening measures in a northern region of the province.

By midday Friday, the number of cases in the country had climbed to 89,386, including 6,979 deaths.

Quebec reported another 530 cases of the virus, sending the total in that province above the 50,000 mark. It also announced another 61 deaths for a total of 4,363.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2020.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press


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