Day: May 12, 2020

Back in recession, Greece puts faith in digital overhaul

ATHENS, Greece — Greece plans to rapidly expand government digital services in 2020 to try and slim down its notoriously slow-moving bureaucracy and help the country exit its pandemic recession more quickly.

More than 500 services are available through a new online portal,, launched on March 21 during lockdown measures. Kyriakos Pierrakakis, minister of digital governance, told The Associated Press he hopes to add at least 200 more services by the end of the year – roughly one per day.

They currently range from obtaining online medical prescriptions and filing architectural designs for building permits to applying for state assistance for ex-convicts.

“Think simplifications of a life event: The birth of a child. Up until February, getting the (social security) number of a newborn involved visits on behalf of citizens to five different public services,” Pierrakakis said.

“Now, that happens automatically within the hospital, and parents are notified by SMS … We’re making that example universal.”

Barely out of a major financial crisis, Greece is expected to suffer the worst recession in the European Union this year from the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and other key sectors of its debt-burdened economy.

Administrative costs amounted to a whopping 6.8% of Greek GDP before the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, roughly double the EU average, according to estimates by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Under pressure from bailout lenders, Greece has been digitizing the services of its public and tax administration for years but only put citizens’ services under a single online roof for the first time seven weeks ago.

Pierrakakis, 36, a Harvard and MIT-trained expert in the use of technology in public policy, says Greece’s digital overhaul is inspired by EU members that lead in online services.

“Our compass is Estonia, where you can do all but three things online: get married, get divorced, and buy a house,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can reach a similar digital equilibrium by adding and integrating more services one after another in the coming months.”

By the summer, Greece aims to create the legal framework for residents to eventually have a single identification number and will ban the use of fax-machine communication in public administration. One challenge is that Greece has among the lowest rates of Internet penetration in the EU, with household usage at 72% in 2018, though usage has increased rapidly over the past decade.

Business owner Vicky Economopoulou runs a vegan bistro in Athens’ trendy Koukaki district and is preparing to reopen after the lockdown.

It took her and business partner Eva Kexagia nearly eight months to get operating permits approved before first opening in February – a process the government says will be considerably accelerated by the end of 2020.

Economopoulou says the digital reforms are long overdue.

“That’s why we have technology: To make life easier and not waste time waiting in line,” Economopoulou said, adding that streamlining services alone will not be enough of a government response to lift Greece back out of crisis.

“Everyone is being hurt by this. It’s unprecedented, and an online platform won’t be enough. They need to reach deeper into their pockets and their hearts.” ___

Iliana Mier in Athens contributed to this report.


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Derek Gatopoulos, The Associated Press

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A look at some of the Canadians who have lost their lives to COVID 19

COVID-19 has sickened tens of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast and killed thousands.

“While we can start to become numb to these numbers as time goes on, each one of these individuals had a life that mattered and people who loved them,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical health officer, has said.

Here are the stories of some of those who have lost their lives:


Thelma Eunice Coward-Ince

HALIFAX — A pillar of the black community in Halifax, Thelma Coward-Ince was also a pioneer in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Coward-Ince died April 17 at 86.

Born in Sydney, N.S., she graduated from Mount Saint Vincent in Halifax with a bachelor of arts degree before joining the Navy in 1954.

She is believed to have been the country’s first black naval reservist, and went on to serve in numerous roles, including senior secretary to the navy’s chief of staff and manager of administrative services.

In 1979, she was the only female manager in the navy’s Atlantic ship repair unit, which at the time employed fewer than 100 women out of a total complement of 2,000 workers.

Outside the office, Coward-Ince served on multiple boards, including the Black United Front, the Health Association of African Canadians, the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, the Black Community Work Group and the NS Advisory Commission on AIDS.

She was also a member of Saint Thomas Baptist Church and a member of the Nova Scotia Mass Choir for more than 20 years.

Five years ago, she moved to the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax, which became the site for the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Nova Scotia.

Laurence Menard

ACTON VALE, Que. — Laurence Menard was a 33-year-old single mother to a young boy.

She worked as a social work technician at the community health clinic in Drummond, Que.

Her younger sister says Menard started experiencing symptoms of the disease on May 1 — Menard’s birthday.

“She went to bed, she felt tired, but to her, it was surely due to the fact that she had been working a lot lately,” Virginie Menard recalls.

Laurence Menard’s fever spiked the day after her birthday, and by the following day she called an ambulance because she started to suffer from chest pain.

Early on May 4, her parents received a call asking them to head quickly to Montreal, where their daughter had been transferred. When they arrived, she had already died.

Virginie Menard says her sister did not suffer from any chronic illness or other serious condition.

As part of her duties, she ensured home support for patients, including the elderly.

“Her clientele was mainly in seniors residences, including one where we know there were cases,” her sister says.

Virginie Menard says her big sister was appreciated by everyone.

“She had a million friends and I see it with all the messages I’ve received,” she says. “Laurence had a lot of character, she had guts. She was frank and did not beat around the bush.”

Hiep Bui

CALGARY — Hiep Bui met her future husband in the unlikeliest of places _ on a refugee boat while they were both fleeing the Vietnam War.

Bui, 67, was a worker at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., site of a large COVID-19 outbreak. A 23-year veteran at the plant, she was responsible for picking out beef bones from hamburger meat.

Bui’s husband, Nga Nguyen, says the couple had no children but had lots of friends and a happy life together.

“There’s so many great memories. I would embrace all of the moments that we had together, because we were just like shadows. We went everywhere together _ shopping, travelling,” he says through an interpreter.

Nguyen says his wife enjoyed her job until her “journey of her last moments” came to a sad and sudden end on April 19.

“On Friday she got really sick. On Saturday I called the ambulance. Initially she thought maybe it was a flu or a cold of some sort, (but) it was announced she truly had COVID-19. That was a very, very sad moment and the next day she passed away,” he says.

“I didn’t see it was coming. It came so fast. I wasn’t allowed to be near her at that moment.”

Nguyen says he and Bui became close while fleeing Vietnam.

“We both escaped Vietnam on the same boat and we landed in the same refugee camp Then she got accepted (to Canada) first, a year before I was, and then, of course, we kept communicating and we met here again and we got married,” he remembers.

“I just want everyone to remember my wife … was a wonderful lady, very generous and very compassionate.”

Rita Owen

CALGARY — Rita Owen is being remembered as a fun-loving social butterfly who loved gossiping with friends over tea and playing slots at the casino.

“She had quite a zest for life,” her son, Michael Owen, says from Gabriola, B.C.

She was also a devout Catholic. Had she not married late in life and had her only child, Owen says he could picture his mother becoming a nun. “Most people actually thought she was.”

She died three weeks shy of her 92nd birthday at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary, where there has been a major COVID-19 outbreak and many deaths.

Owen says his mother moved into the home after she broke her hip in a fall in 2014. She was so sick then that she was given last rites. But she pulled through.

“Every day past then has been borrowed time, extra time, bonus time.”

She died never knowing she had contracted the virus.

“At her age, I just wanted her to enjoy what time she had and not worry,” her son says.

Huy Hao Dao

MONTREAL — Huy Hao Dao, the first doctor in Quebec known to have died of COVID-19, is being remembered by his friends and colleagues as a highly competent researcher and academic who was dedicated to public health.

Dao, 45, was working as a COVID-19 researcher and investigator, tracking down infected patients to learn how they caught the virus and tracing who they may have come into contact with, says good friend and colleague David-Martin Milot.

Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, says Dao did not work in a clinical setting so he could not have contracted the virus from working with patients. It remains unclear how he became infected.

Dao worked as a pharmacist before going to medical school and becoming a specialist in public health and preventive medicine.

He was employed by the public healthy authority of Quebec’s Monteregie region, south of Montreal. Since 2018, he was also a faculty member of the community health sciences department at Universite de Sherbrooke.

Milot says his friend was “a great scientist” who knew about many different subjects and could be counted on to give sound medical advice.

Dao was also very humble and worked often in the background, Milot says.

“He wasn’t the guy who stood in front of the cameras or the microphone. And that’s why I wanted to talk to the media about him, because his job didn’t let the public know who he was.”

The department of public health for Quebec’s Monteregie region says Dao will be remembered by his colleagues “for his competence, his dedication and his perpetual smile.”

Vicki Kap

SARNIA, Ont. — Vicki Kap was known for her love of family, which for her included former refugees she invited into her home for decades before she died from COVID-19.

Jody Brouwer, Kap’s daughter, remembers growing up with a Cambodian couple and their two children living in their basement.

Vicki and Frank Kap opened their hearts and their home to people from around the globe, including Nicaragua, El Salvador and Syria before her death at age 75.

“We’ve got a big extended family from all countries of the world,” Brouwer says.

The woman known for her big smile spent the last four years caring for Frank, who has stage-four bowel cancer and is waiting to go into hospice while grieving for his wife.

The couple would have celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary on March 26, when Kap was on a ventilator. She died three days later.

Family was the focus on her last day, too, as she lay in a medically induced coma.

Brouwer and her brother John Kap were at their mother’s bedside wearing head-to-toe personal protective equipment. Her children shared stories with Kap and videos of her grandchildren.

Martin Postma

STRATHROY, Ont. — Martin Postma’s wife considers the last month with her husband before his death a gift as they spent time enjoying the sights of Portugal.

Mieke Postma says her 74-year-old husband had diabetes but was in otherwise good health before he developed a cough, had the chills and quickly became increasingly weak.

At that point, he barely had enough energy to make it onto the stretcher when an ambulance arrived to take him to their local hospital in Strathroy before he was transferred the next day to University Hospital in nearby London.

Postma was surprised her husband even had the energy to phone her from the emergency department to say doctors were planning to put him on a ventilator.

But she says that last conversation, before his death on March 27 in the intensive care unit, was also a gift from the man she’d married 52 years earlier.

A retired nurse, Postma says she considered the quality-of-life her husband would have had if he had survived as his kidneys shut down on a ventilator and his other organs also began to fail.

Just before the family decided to discontinue treatment on the ventilator, Postma was told her husband’s survival rate would be about 10 per cent, and if he did survive, he would need lifelong care.

“That hit me between the eyes. I thought, ‘That’s not good.”’

Noble (Butch) Gullacher

REGINA — Noble Gullacher was a family man who loved watching his sons play basketball and his grandchildren play soccer.

Gullacher, known by family and friends as Butch, was a diabetic who was waiting for a kidney transplant when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 19.

The 69-year-old died April 10 in a Regina hospital.

Gullacher was a husband, a father to two sons and a grandfather to their three children.

“He was a good dad, but he was a really wonderful grandfather,” says his wife, Kathleen Gullacher. “He loved his family.”

She says they are a close-knit family which regularly gathers for Sunday night dinners.

Gullacher also loved race cars and trap shooting.

“He liked to be active,” she says. “He loved to be out and doing things.”

Gullacher was retired after being a conductor with CP Rail for 35 years.

Deb Diemer

CALGARY — Mike and Deb Diemer were expecting 2020 to be the best year of their lives.

Then, on March 19 Deb Diemer was diagnosed with COVID-19. She died on March 30.

“My in-laws have lost a daughter, my sisters-in-law have lost a sister, I’ve lost a wife and my daughter has lost her mom,” Diemer says.

Doctors had always followed his wife’s health closely after she was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension in 1986.

Diemer says she was able to keep the disease in check with medication until late 2001. She was able to get a double-lung transplant months later in 2002.

About six weeks before her death she got a kidney transplant with a donation from her older sister, Kathy Ziegler.

Diemer says his wife only experienced mild COVID-19 symptoms and her doctors recommended she stay home to recover, since she wasn’t having difficulty breathing and could speak in full sentences.

But she deteriorated quickly and went into medical distress at home, he says. Doctors later told him that she had died within hours of the virus attacking her heart.

“My wife is an Irish redhead and she never backed down from a fight,” Diemer says.

“Every time, she didn’t complain. She just faced whatever she had to face and kept going. We thought she was going to beat COVID-19, too.”

Wade Kidd

WINNIPEG — Wade Kidd had an absolute love for life.

His family says in a statement that Kidd started developing flu-like symptoms on March 18 and was admitted to hospital on March 27 where his condition deteriorated quickly.

The grandfather, father and husband died on April 2, about a month before his 55th birthday.

Kidd had some underlying health concerns, however, in general he was healthy and active, his family says.

He could fix anything and enjoyed camping. He was a loving husband and proud father to his two sons. His love for his two young grandchildren knew no bounds, his family says.

“His monster hugs made us feel safe and his easygoing manner kept us calm in stressful times,” his wife writes.

Kidd was a private person, but the family wanted to share his story. His family says they hope it will convince everyone to stay home so further families don’t have endure what they are facing, mourning without the ability to have a funeral.

“He was a steady ship in a crazy storm, and now he is gone. Now that storm threatens to swallow us whole.”

Shawn Auger

HIGH PRAIRIE, Alta. — Shawn Auger, a father of three, died March 30 at the age of 34.

His wife, Jennifer Auger, says her husband started developing symptoms on March 13 and was diagnosed on March 16. He was hospitalized shortly after and died March 30.

She says he was particularly affected because by the disease he was asthmatic.

“He was also a big guy, like a teddy bear,” she says.

Shawn Auger was involved in youth hockey and worked at the Youth Assessment Centre in High Prairie, Alta., about 370 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. His wife says a position was created especially for him to help youth transition out of the facility.

“That job, he loved it,” she says. “He loved it because he got to meet new people, talk to the youth and mean something to them.”

She says her husband first went to school to become a police officer and served in various placements, including at the Edmonton Institution, before he decided to work with young people.

“He wanted to work with the youth … to make a difference, so they didn’t end up in jail or anything like that.”

She says she and her husband recently bought a house in the High Prairie area to renovate and turn into a group home.

It’s something she plans to continue in his memory.

“Through all this, we did not lose Shawn,” she says. “We gained a fighting, caring, wonderful angel … and he is still working from beyond.”

Alice Grove

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Alice Grove was a 75-year-old widow who lived alone on a farm in west-central Saskatchewan.

Her sister Eleanor Widdowson says Grove, a former nurse’s aide at Saskatchewan Hospital, was having breathing difficulties and collapsed in her home on March 28. She died in hospital the next day.

The sisters last saw each other on March 13 when they met for coffee in nearby North Battleford.

Widdowson believes her sister contracted the virus on one of her many trips into the city.

“We had warned her and warned her and warned her to stay at home,” Widdowson told Saskatoon radio station CKOM. “But she’d get lonely. Anyone would, living out on a farm by themselves.”

Grove’s battle with COVID-19 was hampered by diabetes, says Widdowson. Grove had also survived a battle with cancer.

Ultimately, Widdowson says she made the decision to remove Grove from life support.

“You have to be sensible about it and not take treatment away from a possible 35-year-old that can get better, when you know the 75-year-old lady’s not going to get better.”

Dr. Denis Vincent

NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. — Dr. Denis Vincent is being remembered as a dedicated dentist who made patient care and safety his top priority.

Vincent was 64 when he died on March 22 after attending the Pacific Dental Conference, which drew about 15,000 people.

Family lawyer Bettyanne Brownlee says Vincent was diligent in adhering to recommended practices for infection control throughout his more than 40-year career. He was quarantining himself when he died.

She says Vincent cared deeply about people, had a great sense of humour, and his two great loves were skiing and sailing with friends and family.

“He was enormously proud of his sons, who will keep their memories close as they come to terms with the absence of their father from their adult lives,” Brownlee says.

Mariette Tremblay

MONTREAL — Mariette Tremblay’s granddaughter says her 82-year-old grandmother was a caring woman who was loved by all.

In the Facebook post, Bibianne Lavallee says her grandmother had suffered from respiratory problems and, when the virus struck, she was vulnerable. Her death was reported by Quebec health authorities on March 18.

Lavallee says Tremblay took ill before Quebec began taking exceptional measures to combat the spread of the virus.

“Unfortunately, by the time all of the measures were announced and taken, it was too late to spare my grandmother,” Lavallee says. “When her diagnosis was announced, she was already doomed.”

Lavallee urges people to follow recommendations of public health officials.

“We didn’t have a chance to save Grandma. But you have the chance to make a difference now that we know; now that we know the damage caused by this pandemic,” she says.

“Everything must be done to prevent human tragedies like the one we are experiencing from continuing to multiply. We want the death of my grandmother, the first victim in Quebec of COVID-19, to help save lives.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.

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Family files $1.5M lawsuit against Ontario’s worst-hit long-term care home for alleged neglect

The family of a man who died of the novel coronavirus at Ontario’s worst-hit nursing home is filing a lawsuit against the facility for alleged negligence and failing to protect residents. 

The lawsuit was filed at the Ontario Superior Court on Monday against Southbridge Care Homes and its 294-bed Orchard Villa long-term care and retirement home, where the novel coronavirus has infected at least 96 staff and 225 residents and killed at least 72 people.

In the 12-page statement of claim, obtained by CTV News Toronto, the family of former resident Paul Parkes, who died at the long-term care home on April 15, allege that his death occurred as a “direct result” of negligence and breach of contract.

The claim makes 39 serious allegations including that the Pickering, Ont. home failed to follow proper procedures to protect residents, failed to properly care for Paul Parkes and failed to communicate with his family about his condition.

“I’ve never lost someone this close to me and the grieving process is kind of stunted because of everything else that’s going on,” Parkes’ daughter Cathy Parkes told CTV News Toronto on Monday.

“I felt that it was necessary to ask questions, get answers and also have some accountability for what’s happened.”

Toronto law firm Howie, Sacks and Henry LLP have filed the lawsuit on behalf of Cathy and other family members and Paul’s estate and is altogether seeking over $1.5 million dollars in damages.

“I think at the front of this we have a broken system in long-term care that long proceeded COVID-19 that is being absolutely broken by this pandemic,” the family’s lawyer Melissa Miller told CTV News Toronto.

“These homes had an obligation within the legislation and the regulations to have in place proper protocols for emergency situations and outbreaks and it just doesn’t look like that was done.”

CTV News Toronto has reached out to the home about the allegations, which have not been proven in court, and its parent company but have not yet received a response.

Orchard Villa

What happened to Paul Parkes?

Parkes was a resident of Orchard Villa since Nov. 8, 2019. The claim alleges that on April 6, his family was advised via phone that there was a flu outbreak at the home.

On April 9, the family observed that 86-year-old Parkes was not well when speaking to them on the phone, and they were told later that day that another resident had tested positive for COVID-19.

At this point, the claim alleges that residents were still eating meals together in the dining room of the home despite the outbreak.

“Over the next few days, Parkes’s health began to significantly deteriorate,” the claim alleges.

“In the meantime, the family was not only getting very little information, but conflicting information from the administration about Paul’s well-being, whether he had COVID-19, and how the home was handling the outbreak and Paul’s care.”

On April 14, the claim alleges that the family asked for Parkes to be transferred to a hospital after learning he was doing worse, but the home said that it could not be done.

Paul Parkes

“On April 15, 2020, the family received a phone call from staff at the home advising that Paul passed away,” the claim states. “The home confirmed with the family on April 18, 2020 that Paul had tested positive for COVID-19.”

The lawsuit alleges that the home and its owner failed to protect Parkes and the other residents at the facility due to “inadequate preventative and responsive measures to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

In the claim, it is alleged that the home failed to “identify that Paul was infected with the virus within a reasonable time frame,” and that management failed to “properly treat” him.

“They failed to perform regular assessments to ensure that any changes in Paul’s condition were observed, recorded, reported to other staff/supervisors and/or the physician in charge,” the claim alleges.

It is further alleged that the home did not “adequately communicate” with the family about Parkes’ condition and failed to ensure that he received the care he needed.

“They failed to ensure that legislated requirements were followed [and] they failed to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of Paul under their custody and supervision,” the claim alleges.

“They failed to have a proper system or any system in place to ensure that Paul would be safe while at the home.”

“They neglected Paul … In the treatment, care and supervision of Paul, they fell below the reasonable standard of care required in the circumstances, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Cathy Parkes, an employee of Bell Media, told CTV News Toronto that she appreciates the personal support workers and nursing staff that provided care for her father, but hopes the lawsuit will hold the owners and administrators of Orchard Villa to account.


How the virus allegedly spread at the home

The allegations in the claim extend to how Orchard Villa responded to the outbreak and the care of residents as a whole at the facility.

According to the claim, the home allegedly failed to hire “sufficient” staff to take care of residents, failed to provide proper training and supervision for employees, and failed to enforce a code of conduct.

“Paul would not have died but for the negligence, actions or omissions, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty of the defendants,” the claim stated

“Paul endured pain and suffering, and the loss of enjoyment of his last days and weeks of his life as a direct result of the defendants’ negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty to him.”

It further alleges the home failed to implement an adequate COVID-19 response plan, failed to communicate with families regarding presumptive positive cases of the virus and failed to conduct proper visitor screening.

“They failed to put into a place an adequate visitor policy, or have a visitor policy at all, within a reasonable timeframe,” the legal document alleges.

orchard villa

“They failed to implement adequate sanitary measures to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 between the staff and the residents of the home.”

The claim also alleges that the home did not adequately supply or use personal protective equipment (PPE) for visitors, residents and staff and permitted infected visitors and staff to enter the home.

“They knew or ought to have known that the failure to adequately supply or use PPE for visitors, residents and staff would be a danger to the residents,” the claim states.

In addition, the lawsuit claims that the homes failed to implement “adequate physical distancing and isolation measures within a reasonable time frame” and failed to “properly identify and isolate infected residents.”

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