Quebec, the province hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, has started to roll out the first phase of its recovery plan but the government has decided to postpone part of its strategy for Montreal.
Premier François Legault said on Monday that retail stores in Montreal and the surrounding areas will open on May 18, one week later than previously announced. He cited high hospitalization rates.
“The situation is under control in the rest of Quebec, outside of Greater Montreal,” he said.
The decision comes as retail stores in other parts of Quebec reopened on Monday as the province scales back measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, throughout the month of May.
Traffic restrictions were also lifted in several regions earlier in the day, including the Laurentians, Lanaudière and Chaudière-Appalaches.
As of Monday, there are 32,623 cases of COVID-19 in Quebec, an increase of 758 from the previous day. The island of Montreal accounts for about half of the total number of infections.
The majority of the 1,772 people hospitalized are in Montreal, according to Legault.
“We see that there are enough beds outside of the Greater Montreal area, but it remains very tight in Montreal,” he said.
Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said health officials want to investigate the origin of hospitalized cases and get a better picture of community outbreaks before allowing stores to reopen.
He said the number of cases in hospital is stable, but has not declined as hoped.
“Because we’re not going down as we thought we would go, we prefer to delay some deconfinement,” he said.
Legault said elementary schools and daycares are still set to reopen in Montreal on May 19 as planned, but that could change depending what happens in the next two weeks.
“We will follow the situation very closely and take a data-driven decision,” he said.
The province’s official Opposition earlier called on the government to push back the dates for reopening businesses and schools in the Montreal area. Quebec Liberal Leader Pierre Arcand says it’s too early to consider easing COVID-19 containment measures in the city.
Montreal supports decision
Dr. Mylène Drouin, Montreal’s director of public health, commended the province’s decision to postpone reopening stores in the city.
The curve is not yet flattened in Montreal, she added.
“I believe this extra week will allow us to document the potential transmission zones of the city,” she said.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the city is preparing for the lockdown to be scaled back for the economy and schools, but she said she supports Legault’s announcement.
“The battle has not been won in Montreal but we must continue to fight,” she said.
Earlier in the day, permit counters reopened in the city as some residential construction is gradually allowed to resume in Quebec.
The service is available by appointment only, however, and must be arranged by phone ahead of time.
The offices will gradually reopen in different boroughs over the next week, but the service is only available for residents or contractors who must complete residential work before July 31.
More help in long-term care homes
As of Monday, the province’s death toll stands at 2,280 — the highest in Canada.
Legault said the respiratory illness has killed 75 more people and 72 of them were living in long-term care homes.
As the health crisis continues to unfold in nursing homes, Legault once again reiterated his call for people to help if they are available. He said staff is beginning to tire as they enter their eighth week of the pandemic.
“I don’t have to tell you that the situation continues to be difficult in long-term care homes,” he said.
Over the past month, Legault has appealed to medical specialists, the military and volunteers to work in the facilities. Many of them are facing staff shortages and outbreaks.
— With files from the Canadian PressView link »