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Coronavirus: Is Montreal ready to get back to business?

WATCH: Montreal officials provide update on city's COVID-19 response

This week, Premier François Legault focused on the return to school for Quebec elementary students and daycares, as well as reopening certain sectors of the economy including manufacturing, construction and retail.

Economic activities are scheduled to restart as early as May 4 in regions outside of Montreal, while school is set to resume on May 11.

But in Montreal, which remains the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, activities are set to start a week later.

READ MORE: Quebec to reopen some businesses as province eases coronavirus measures

Montreal regional public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said the situation in the greater Montreal area will be closely monitored to ensure de-confinement goes ahead safely.

“Montreal has specific characteristics that we have to consider,” she said.

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“We have a high density of population, of course; we have public transportation that causes an issue; and a vulnerable population that we have to consider in our strategy.”

As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 soared to 12,487, a jump of 563 new cases in 24 hours. There have been more than 1,000 deaths, 80 per cent of which can be traced back to long-term care facilities (CHSLD) and seniors’ residences, according to Drouin.

Drouin explained that certain conditions must be met before loosening restrictions.

“We have to make sure that the transmission is well controlled,” she said. “That’s what we’re going to do in certain neighoubrhoods where we have a suspicion of maybe a sustained transmission.”

One such neighbourhood is Montreal North where the number of confirmed cases is 1,153 which represents the highest rate per 100,000 residents anywhere in Montreal.

“It’s a progression that we’ve seen since April 8, Drouin said. “More than 40 per cent of the cases are associated with CHSLD and seniors residences.”

Click to play video: 'Montreal readying itself for gradual reopening of schools, businesses' Montreal readying itself for gradual reopening of schools, businesses
Montreal readying itself for gradual reopening of schools, businesses – Apr 28, 2020

A high proportion of health-care workers in Montreal North are also affected.

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“Twenty-three per cent of cases are health-care workers,” Drouin said, “and we see in other neighbourhoods it is quite less at 15 per cent.”

Drouin noted there have also been outbreaks of COVID-19 in certain Montreal North work places, but didn’t specify which. She only said that interventions have taken place in affected areas.

“We’re working with the borough and community partners to re-inforce strategies and make sure social distancing is well applied to make sure workplaces have all the tools to apply the recommendations,” she said.

READ MORE: Quebec teachers, bus drivers unions raise concerns over back-to-school plan amid coronavirus crisis

Public health is also developing a screening strategy specifically for Montreal North.

The second condition that must be met for a safe reopening, according to Drouin, is a stable health care network with a capacity to intervene should there be a spike in cases or outbreaks.

The last criteria involves making sure workplaces scheduled to reopen are able to put in place the necessary measures to ensure a safe working environment.

“Prevention brigadiers” will help businesses make sure those measures are in place.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the priority remains the health of the population.

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“If the epidemiological conditions change or if we can’t meet the winning conditions to reopen, we will re-adjust,” she said.

Plante reiterated that both the health network and the general population have their part to play and that reopening the economy doesn’t mean a loosening of restrictions.

READ MORE: What we know about Quebec’s plan to reopen elementary schools, daycares

Plante said the same guidelines remain in place: social gatherings are still prohibited, frequent handwashing is encouraged and keeping two metres apart is still the norm.

The city is also encouraging Montrealers to wear face coverings while in public.

“The face coverings don’t mean you can gather,” Plante warned. “It’s an extra measure when it is difficult to keep a two-metre distance.”

Instructions for making your own face covering can be found on the Quebec government’s website with both no-sew and sewing versions available.

The city will also be distributing free masks for the most vulnerable via various community organizations

Plante said the city has been working on a summer plan that would allow Montrealers to make the most of the sunny season, while respecting social distancing.

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That plan should be unveiled in the coming weeks.

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