Coronavirus: Is it risky to hang out with friends in a park in Montreal?

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WATCH: Coronavirus outbreak: Is it risky to hang out with friends in a park? – May 3, 2020

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Montreal, officials have been advising us to stay at home as much as possible.

But as the weather gets nicer and nicer, staying indoors is getting harder and harder for Montrealers.

On both Saturday and Sunday, Lafontaine Park was full of hundreds of people. In recent weeks, people were mostly just going out for walks. Gatherings are still banned, but people are now sitting down in parks and hanging out with friends. The vast majority at Lafontaine appeared to be respecting the two-metre distance rule.

“I think people are still trying to respect social distancing, but we need to be outside seeing each other,” said 19-year-old Eloise Cauchy-Vaillancourt, sitting two metres from her boyfriend, who doesn’t live in the same home as her.

So many people flocked to Lafontaine and other Montreal parks on Saturday that the city decided to close certain parking lots to prevent people from coming from afar. The parking lots at Lafontaine, Maisonneuve, Jarry, Frederic-Back and l’Île-de-la-Visitation are now off-limits.

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Though the city says all gatherings in parks remain prohibited, Montreal police told Global News they would not fine people if they were obeying the two-metre rule.

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“As long as you’re respecting social distancing, there’s no problem,” said Montreal police spokesperson André Durocher.

Psychologist Pierre Faubert says that all the time we’ve been spending indoors is unnatural and goes against human instinct.

“We need people. We need others. We need to feel we belong to a community,” said Faubert. “Just being in a park seeing a whole bunch of people instead of some walls, as nice as they may be, is quite a nurturing, nourishing experience.”

McGill infectious disease specialist Matthew Oughton says if people keep two metres apart, the risk of catching the coronavirus at a park is very low.

“If people were to do this, but continue to completely respect the physical distancing, I think this would be an incredibly safe activity,” he told Global News.

Oughton says people not living together have to actually respect the two-metre distance, and not come gradually closer.

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“I think that’s the concern of public health authorities and local governments. There are all sorts of temptations to sort of relax on those restrictions. Two metres could become one and a half, then one. That’s why they’re concerned,” he said.

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The infectious disease expert also says sharing food and drinks would be a bad idea.

“Anything you’re sharing could become a fomite, an inanimate object that acts as a vector for transmission of the infection,” Oughton explained.

Montreal police have issued more than 1,800 fines for breaking social distancing rules since mid-March, many for illegal indoor gatherings. Even though they say they won’t give tickets unless people get too close, not everyone believes them.

“Some cops say that, but I feel like right now cops have a lot of liberty. They get to choose who they arrest who they don’t,” said Cauchy-Vaillancourt.

Durocher said even a backyard barbecue could potentially go without being fined if distances were kept.

“But let’s be honest with one another, you have a barbecue in your backyard, you have a beer, two beers, maybe a glass of wine. Who can look at you straight in the face and say they’ll respect social distancing?” Durocher said.

If you do decide to spend some time in the park, Oughton wants to remind you to BYOABHS, or “bring your own alcohol-based hand sanitizer,” and wash your hands — a lot.

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