Federal Minister Hears Concerns from Local Seniors

Times have been tough for seniors over the last year. COVID-19 has hit them especially hard, and even now with the vaccine rollout and some signs of recovery, the burden of this pandemic is still disproportionately falling on them. Seniors have a lot of concerns, so who better to hear them than Canada’s Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte, who took part in a virtual roundtable discussion with Guelph seniors’ groups Wednesday.

“Our government has an ambitious agenda for seniors,” Schulte told the table citing the new Canadian disability benefit, universal Pharmacare, and incentives to help seniors stay in their home as the government’s main initiatives. “Our priorities depend on listening to you, listening to seniors across the country, and hearing about your experiences and your thoughts on the realities of seniors in Guelph.”

Numerous local groups took part in the virtual round table including the Guelph-Wellington Seniors’ Association, the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Guelph Muslim Society, the Guelph Chinese Canadian Cultural Group, and the Village By the Arboretum. Obviously, most of the issues that participants raised had to do with the ongoing effects of COVID-19.

Isobel Boyle of the Canadian Federation of University Women said that he group passed two emergency resolutions in the last year concerning the creation of universal standards for long-term care and making it a part of the Canada Health Act.

“We are well aware that these issues exist across all jurisdictions and clubs in many provinces, and we’re undertaking initiatives with provincial and municipal governments,” Boyle said. “Nationally, we’ve been having a study group that has been gathering data with an emphasis on not just the issue of long-term care, but elder care and trying to keep our seniors in their homes.”

Katharine Braid, who’s the president of the Village By the Arboretum, asked Schulte about the more immediate future of a post-COVID world. She said that many of the residents she represents have gotten at least one shot of a vaccine, and others are scheduled or pre-registered for their own shots, and now they’re asking questions about what they can and can’t do now.

“I’m now getting the question that once the whole village has been vaccinated, which it may well be by the end of May, what the rules will be in the community centre because we have our own community centre with sports and cultural facilities,” Braid said.

After the meeting, Schulte told Guelph Politico that establishing new guidelines for post-COVID socializing is easier said than done. “Once we start to see more people vaccinated, then we’ll start to have a better sense of what we can do, but you’ve got to realize that the same time we’re vaccinating, we have variants of concern that are now starting to take over,” she said.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen yet, and there are a lot of unknowns that need to be known before you can tell people what is reasonable, and there’s no point telling people something and then having to back it up,” Schulte added. “It’s better just to say right now that we are not in a position to give you that pathway. We are still learning what these variants are going to do in terms of caseload, so we just haven’t got there yet.”

Although no one asked, Schulte also took a moment to offer some official reassurances about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the use of which has been suspended in several European countries out of an abundance of caution while cases of patients with blood clots are being investigated.

“I know there’s some concern in people’s minds about AstraZeneca, and obviously we’re watching closely what’s unfolding there, but Canada is recognized around the world for its high standard of review, and all of [those vaccines] have been approved, and are you should be quite confident in those approvals,” Schulte said.

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