All universities, CEGEPs, schools and daycares will be closed for two weeks due to the novel coronavirus outbreak starting on Monday, Quebec Premier François Legault announced on Friday.
The new order comes as the province deals with its 17th confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and has implemented sweeping measures to tackle the spread. Daycare service will be available for health-care workers and others providing essential services.
“I want to tell Quebecers, I know we are asking you a lot,” Legault said. “But we are doing that to avoid the worst.”
The move comes after the province declared four new cases late Thursday night. As of Friday night, there are 646 people under investigation and more than 1,000 people have tested negative.
The school closure come as a shock to Jeanine Lee, a Montreal mother of two and a contract worker. School boards must be scrambling to accommodate a sudden two-week leave, she added.
“I was surprised,” she said. “But I don’t think it is overkill.”
As part of the expanded protocol, individuals who think they may have COVID-19 are now being asked not to call 811. They should instead call 1-877-644-4545.
‘We will not run out of food’
The Quebec government is also calling on Ottawa to restrict travel coming into Canada until further notice. Legault described it as an urgent situation.
“We’re now asking our own people to be isolated for 14 days so I think we need to restrict and limit the people coming from outside Canada,” he said.
Concerned Quebecers should also know that the province has enough food and that there is no shortage in sight, according to Legault. He said trucks will continue to deliver food.
Over the past two days, panicked customers have flocked to grocery stores to stock up in case of quarantine. In Montreal, long lineups have snaked outside of stores all morning on Friday.
“We will not run out of food,” said Legault.
Marc Fortin, the president of the Retail Council of Canada, said that shoppers have no reason to scramble. The province’s supply chain can support the uptick in demand, he added.
“There is no need to panic,” he said. “Everybody should take what they need and leave some for others.”
New measures prompts closures, delays
In wake of the new measures, hospitals and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) have decided to restrict or limit visits as of Friday. For example, Notre-Dame and Verdun hospitals will no longer allow visits — with the exception of those visiting patients receiving end-of-life care.
Quebec’s college of physicians granted nurses the power to sign sick notes for patients who test positive for the virus on Friday. Dr. Mauril Gaudreault, the college’s president, said in a statement it is an “exceptional situation.”
“We must analyze all possible solutions to optimize the role of doctors and other health professionals,” he said.
As the number of cases quickly continues to rise in Canada, the provincial government had also previously introduced exceptional measures on Thursday to prevent the spread of the virus.
Quebecers returning from international travel or who experience flu-like symptoms are asked to put themselves in voluntary isolation for 14 days. Government workers — including health-care professionals and teachers — who have recently returned from abroad are ordered to stay home for that period of time.
Legault has declared indoor events of more than 250 people are prohibited. He is urging organizers of other large gatherings to reconsider as well.
As a result, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced the city is closing all sports and cultural centres until further notice amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19. Public pools, sports centres and libraries are closed as of Friday until further notice.
Montreal’s public transit system is still accessible, but the public is being asked to wash their hands after using the Metro or bus.
Aside from municipal installations, many buildings are off limits to the public, including the Montreal Science Centre. Several events, including the St. Patrick’s Day parade, have also been delayed or cancelled.
— With files from Global News’ Alessia Simona Maratta, Raquel Fletcher and the Canadian Press