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Quebec coroner announces vast public inquiry into COVID-19 long-term care deaths

MONTREAL — Quebec's coroner's office has ordered a vast public inquiry into COVID-19 deaths at some of the province's long-term care homes, private seniors' residences and other accommodations for vulnerable people.

MONTREAL — Quebec's coroner's office has ordered a vast public inquiry into COVID-19 deaths at some of the province's long-term care homes, private seniors' residences and other accommodations for vulnerable people.

Pascale Descary, the province's chief coroner, said in a statement the public inquiry will allow Quebecers to learn the facts about what happened during the pandemic.

The statement noted that coroners intervene in the case of a death that is violent, when the cause is unclear or when it is possibly linked to negligence.

"Deaths that occur outside these parameters, such as those that are only the result of a coronavirus infection, are not investigated by coroners," it said.

Coroner Gehane Kamel has been appointed to oversee the inquiry. A lawyer by training, she will be assisted by a coroner with medical background, Dr. Jacques Ramsay, given the complexity of the subject and the large number of deaths.

Kamel had been previously enlisted to investigate the deaths at Residence Herron in Dorval, Que., and that case will form the basis of the provincial inquiry looking at deaths that occurred between March 12 and May 1.

She will select deaths in several types of residences from different regions to create a better portrait of the situation province-wide.

Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais says the provincial government will co-operate with the inquiry, which was announced as Quebec reported another 29 COVID-19 deaths.

As of Wednesday, Quebec had recorded 5,298 deaths from COVID-19, and roughly 80 per cent of them occurred in seniors residences and long-term care homes.

The province also reported 117 new cases of the novel coronavirus for a total of 54,263, and authorities said the number of hospitalizations dropped by 28 for a total of 690. Quebec says 22,549 of its cases are considered recovered.

As it continues to reopen, the province announced that virtually all indoor and outdoor physical training activities — with the exception of combat sports — will be allowed to resume next week.

Junior education minister Isabelle Charest said gyms, arenas and other indoor training facilities can open June 22, the same day team sports will also be allowed to resume. Public and private beaches can also reopen next week.

A maximum of 50 people will be allowed indoors together, said Charest, and players will still need to keep a two-metre distance from each other — most of the time.

"Physical distancing remains the rule to respect," she said. "However, during team games, accidental and sporadic contact will be accepted."

The only physical activity still banned is combat sports, Charest said, though martial arts centres will be allowed to open for training and conditioning purposes.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's director of public health, said authorities are confident in their pace of reopening, given that COVID-19 infection indicators continue to improve.

"It has gone down everywhere," said Arruda, who joined Charest at the news conference in Quebec City. "There are still some zones in Montreal and Laval that are still a little hot ... but we don't have what we call, active community transmission."

Charest and Arruda recognized during the news conference that authorities can't control everyone's behaviour and said they are relying on people's good faith.

Locker rooms and bathrooms inside gyms and arenas can remain open, for instance, but Arruda and Charest asked people to avoid using them in order to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission.

Also on Wednesday, Arruda confirmed that places of worship are among the institutions that will be able to open Monday, when the government permits indoor gatherings of up to 50 people.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.

Giuseppe Valiante and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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