Quebec’s premier unveiled a staggered approach to reopening the economy beginning next week as the province relaxes restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
François Legault laid out the details during his daily briefing on Tuesday as he reported the province surpassed 25,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — which accounts for roughly half of the country’s infections. Despite that, he maintained the province has a handle on the virus.
“Our challenge is to gradually restart the economy without restarting the pandemic,” he said.
Most stores will gradually be allowed to reopen on May 4, but shopping centres will remain closed for now. The Greater Montreal area, where the majority of cases are located, will follow suit one week later.
Companies operating in construction and manufacturing across Quebec will also restart on May 11.
“The idea is to open gradually and follow the situation,” said Legault, adding that it is important to ensure the health-care system can handle the virus’s progression.
The plan to relaunch the economy was announced as the province recorded an uptick in fatalities attributable to COVID-19, bringing Quebec’s death toll to 1,682 as of Tuesday.
Legault, for his part, reiterated that the pandemic is under control in the province, but that a gradual return to work must go slowly and not spark a jump in cases.
He said the province will keep close tabs on the number of cases and the ability of hospitals to respond. Physical-distancing measures must also be respected, he added.
“The idea is to gradually add workers and analyze the effect on the contagion,” he said.
The partial lockdown on Quebec’s economy began in March when the province ordered all non-essential services to physically close. Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said that 1.2 million Quebecers had to stop working as a result.
The measures announced Tuesday were drafted in consultation with organizations responsible for public health and worker safety, according to Fitzgibbon.
“I’m hopeful that the sooner we restart the economy, the sooner we’ll be back to where we were,” he said.
Legault thanked entrepreneurs and business owners, describing them as “creative people who take risks” and who were thwarted by the respiratory illness.
“I know that these have been terrible weeks,” he said. “It has been hell financially.”
The recovery strategy comes one day after the province unveiled its plan to slowly reopen elementary schools and daycares as of May 11. Returning to school is optional for students, but the idea has been met with concerns from unions.
— With files from the Canadian PressView link »