After being shuttered for more than a month, Quebec elementary schools and daycares will gradually reopen in May as the province looks to ease its restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Premier François Legault said on Monday that the return to classes will begin on May 11 in regions outside of Montreal, which are less impacted by COVID-19. The Greater Montreal area will follow suit on May 19.
The government is open to changing the dates and plan if the situation worsens, according to Legault.
“We will analyze the situation every day and adjust if necessary,” he said.
Under the plan, high schools, universities and CEGEPs will not reopen until August or September, when the new academic year begins. Legault said he doesn’t want to send swarms of students onto public transit and urged those institutions to undertake online teaching where possible.
Legault said that the COVID-19 infection rate in the province’s hospitals is under control and the virus is generally not dangerous to young children. The decision was made in line with public health authorities, he added.
However, he stressed that attendance is not mandatory and that parents may keep their children home if they would rather not send them back to school.
“This reopening will be gradual, it won’t be obligatory, so the children won’t all come back at the same time,” he said.
Legault said children with special needs should followed closely by their teachers. Quebec can’t wait for a vaccine to be created in order to let students return to class.
“It’s good for kids to see their friends, their teachers,” he said. “We don’t expect a vaccine before 12 to 18 months. So we can’t keep kids at home for 12 to 18 months.”
While a return to school is on the horizon, social-distancing measures are still in effect. As a result, Legault said there will be a maximum of about 15 students allowed per class and that children should be maintaining a two-metre distance from one another.
In daycares, staff will be asked to wear masks while on the job.
The strategy comes as Quebec reported more than 800 new cases of Monday, bringing the province’s total number of infections to 24,982.
The respiratory illness has killed 1,599 people to date. The majority of deaths have originated in long-term care homes, which are facing outbreaks and staffing shortages.
The crisis remains in nursing homes and the situation is under control in other parts of society, according to Legault. However, he said it is important that schools, the economy and other services resume slowly as not to overburden the health-care system.
“The situation must be and must stay under control in our health system,” he said. “Everybody will have to follow public health instructions. We must continue to keep our distances.”
Quebec’s progressive restart comes as schools and businesses have been on lockdown for more than a month. They were closed in March in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The government is expected to unveil its plan for the economy on Tuesday.
Some help in long-term care centres
As the province struggles to contain the spread of the virus in nursing homes, Legault said that thousands of Quebecers heeded the call to help.
The government issued a plea last week for workers as additional reinforcements in short-staffed facilities.
“We are confident that with all these people we will be able to fill all the positions in seniors’ residences,” he said.
Legault had previously appealed to medical specialists, doctors and other health-care professionals to shift to hard-hit centres.
The province also asked the federal government for reinforcements to bolster staffing, demanding 1,000 soldiers to carry out tasks in long-term care homes.
Legault said on Monday that a “weight had been lifted” off his shoulders after people came forward to work in residences.
— With files from the Canadian PressView link »