The City of Montreal declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon as the number of cases of COVID-19 jumped to 971, representing 48 per cent of cases in the province.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the decision was made at the request of Quebec’s public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda.
Earlier in the day, the Quebec government announced 10 more deaths as a result of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of fatalities to 18.
“The numbers are real,” Plante said. “We have now reached a point where we need to adopt exceptional powers in order to be more responsive.”
However, the mayor clarified the state of emergency did not mean the city was under lockdown or quarantine.
The decision was put in place to better provide for the city’s homeless population.
“I have declared the state of emergency because our resources for the homeless need to be reinforced right now — immediately,” she said.
A first reported case of COVID-19 within Montreal’s homeless community earlier this week prompted concern among those who care for the city’s most vulnerable.
Plante announced Friday the city plans to open more temporary shelters in the coming days to cope with the reduced number of beds in shelters. There are fewer beds available as shelters seek to apply social distancing measures.
It will also create outdoor day centres in public spaces normally frequented by the homeless, where food will be provided. The city plans to open five sites able to accommodate 1,000 people a day.
The first site is set to open in Cabot Square in cooperation with Resilience Montreal — a day shelter which caters mostly to the city’s homeless, Indigenous population.
A hotel has also been set up to house homeless citizens who are awaiting test results and the Royal Victoria Hospital will house individuals infected with the virus.
“The health crisis cannot become a social crisis,” Plante said. “The provisions set out in the emergency preparedness act allow us to take all measures needed to protect the life, health and safety of all our citizens.”
Plante concluded by reminding the public to do their part, a point authorities continue to hammer home in the hopes people will listen.
The mayor’s declaration gives police officers sweeping new powers, including closing down non-essential businesses that remain open, stopping social gatherings and imposing fines on people for not self-isolating when ordered to do so.
— With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise