TORONTO -- The steadily growing case load of COVID-19 infections in Canada surpassed 4,000 and the death toll shot up on Friday amid questions about fatalities that may not be counted as resulting from the pandemic.

Two residents of a nursing home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., who had symptoms of the flu-like illness have died but neither was tested for the coronavirus. In fact, the Pinecrest Nursing Home said only three others were tested and confirmed positive, while 35 residents have coronavirus symptoms.

The highly contagious virus is known to be particularly dangerous for the elderly and those with compromised health. Deadly outbreak clusters in nursing homes have also been reported in British Columbia. As at other long-term care facilities, residents at Pinecrest share rooms, making isolation difficult.

"This is truly a horrible time for the families and friends of the residents, as well as our staff," said Mary Carr, administrator of Pinecrest.

To date, 53 people have died in Canada as a result of COVID-19, health authorities have reported. But the true number could be obscured.

Latest data Friday show Quebec more than doubled its death toll, with 10 more people succumbing to the virus in 24 hours. The province has now reported 18 deaths among more than 2,000 cases -- around double that seen in Ontario, which recorded 15 COVID deaths among 1,000 cases in the province.

British Columbia has had 14 deaths, most among the elderly, while Alberta has reported two fatalities. A woman in her 60s became the first death in Manitoba.

Tending to the ill has also become a major challenge. B.C. has reported dozens of infections among staff at nursing homes. At least 14 staff at Pinecrest have tested positive, while the results for 16 others are pending, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit said.

The grim health impacts of the pandemic has also resulted in a shrivelling economy, lower interest rates and a sharply higher federal deficit as the government prepares to inject multiple billions to cushion the unprecedented impact.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday the government would now cover 75 per cent of salaries for workers of qualifying small businesses affected by COVID-19, an increase from the 10 per cent announced earlier that critics said was too little to have an impact.

The surge in government spending will have a profound impact on the federal deficit in the coming fiscal year. Parliament's budget watchdog on Friday projected the deficit would reach $112.7 billion -- quadruple what it would have otherwise been. The office also predicted the economy would contract by 5.1 per cent this year, which would be the worst showing since 1962.

In an effort to keep cash flowing in the system, the Bank of Canada cut its key interest rate by 50 points to 0.25 per cent -- effectively to near zero.

"Low interest rates help to cushion the shock by easing the cost of borrowing," Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said. "The intent of our decision today is two-fold: to immediately support the financial system so it keeps on providing credit, and, over the longer term, to lay the foundation for the economy's return to normalcy."

Only Nunavut has not confirmed any infections to date.

Governments and experts have urged people -- in some cases backed up by the threat of fines or jail time -- to keep their distance from one another. Travellers entering Canada are required to quarantine for 14 days.

The crisis has been keeping police busy, sometimes in unusual ways. For example, police in Hamilton charged a teenaged McDonald's employee with fraud, mischief and uttering a forged document for allegedly faking a doctor's note that she had the virus. The outlet was forced to shut down for several days while it was sanitized.

In New Brunswick, police charged a man with assault for allegedly coughing in someone's face. Kennebecasis regional police say they had responded to a call about people failing to isolate themselves after returning from abroad as is mandatory. The man was arrested for allegedly uttering threats and "purposely coughing in someone's face while feeling ill."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 27, 2020