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Canada coronavirus death toll passes 5,000, Trudeau wants seniors' care reform

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian coronavirus death toll passed the 5,000 mark on Tuesday and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said major reforms were needed to seniors' residences, where more than 80% of the victims lived.

The public health agency said the number of deaths edged up by 2.9% to 5,049 from 4,906 on Monday, one of the smallest daily gains so far. Canada is the 11th nation to record more than 5,000 deaths from the outbreak.

Long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec - the two most populous of the 10 provinces - have been particularly hard hit. Officials have detailed poor conditions in some residences, where employees earn just the minimum wage.

"We've seen heart-breaking tragedies in long-term care facilities and nursing homes right across the country - overworked staff, understaffed residences, grieving families," Trudeau told a daily briefing.

"There are serious underlying challenges facing these facilities and in the coming months the federal government will be there to help the provinces find lasting solutions."

Officials earlier announced Ottawa would give seniors living on a fixed income a one-time payment ranging from C$300 ($215) to C$500 to deal with increased costs linked to the outbreak.

Seniors Minister Deb Schulte said the tax-free payments would help seniors who need money for food deliveries and other services. It will also aid those taking taxis to avoid using public transport.

She side-stepped questions about whether Ottawa should call a national inquiry into seniors' homes.

"What we are experiencing in Canada is unprecedented and unacceptable," she told a briefing.

"Going forward there will be time to reflect on the lessons that we've learned and the work that needs to be done. But right now (we are) focused on dealing with the issue at hand."

The total value of the payments - which will help 6.7 million people - is C$2.5 billion. Ottawa has already committed more than C$160 billion in direct spending - more than 7% of gross domestic product - on a range of programs to help businesses and people deal with the outbreak.

Ottawa was focused on short-term measures to support people "so that we can come out the other side and restart the economy soon and we won't need to look at what we might need to do in six months if we're still, heaven forbid, all locked down", Trudeau said, adding that programs would be extended if needed.

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