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Exteriors of the Seven Oaks Long-Term Care Home in Scarborough, Ont. is photographed on Mar 26 2020. Two residents of the city of Toronto run facility died after contracting COVID-19.

Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

The Ontario government has given itself emergency power to control the management of privately run long-term care homes as the COVID-19 outbreak affecting Canada’s most vulnerable seniors continues.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the order Wednesday morning, saying in a statement it will mean Ontario is better prepared to “immediately swing into action if a home is struggling to contain this deadly virus.”

Ontario is the latest province to take such measures, following Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, all of which have seized control of private seniors’ homes in recent weeks.

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Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton rejected calls to take over management of some specific care homes just a few weeks ago, though she said the province was open to co-ordinating management teams to go in and help when necessary.

Long-term care homes have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said Tuesday about 20 per cent of all confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada are linked to long-term care homes, but more than 80 per cent of the people who have died from COVID-19 were seniors living in the homes.

Ontario reports it has 180 homes with COVID-19 outbreaks. At least 1,269 Ontario long-term care residents have died of COVID-19, as have several staff members.

The issue of long-term care management had been on the radar in many provinces before the COVID-19 pandemic. British Columbia began taking control of several homes run by one company in February, alleging the private operator was not meeting legislated standards of care.

Alberta and Quebec have also taken control of some homes in recent weeks, and Quebec Premier François Legault mused recently that perhaps the private-ownership model needed rethinking.

Canada sent in more than 1,000 members of the military to help staff long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario, with thousands of nurses and health care workers out sick or requiring isolation because of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also released details of more financial aid for small businesses that haven’t been able to qualify for other programs to date. He said the new $962-million Regional Relief and Recovery Fund will be delivered through regional economic development agencies.

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The government said in particular, a number of small and medium-sized businesses in the country’s hard-hit tourism sector have struggled to qualify for benefits such as the wage subsidy. Tourism has all but ground to a halt as Canadians stay home to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Mr. Trudeau also announced Wednesday that students looking for help through the Canada Emergency Student Benefit can begin applying on Friday. The benefit offers up to $1,250 to individual students, and $2,000 for those with dependents or disabilities.

Ontario issued a new emergency order on Wednesday to temporarily replace the management of some long-term care homes if they are struggling to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. Health Minister Christine Elliott says the measure is meant to strengthen protections for vulnerable seniors in those facilities. The Canadian Press

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