Quebec is looking to reassure older workers as elementary schools and daycares slowly reopen in most parts of province starting next week amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault, who filled in for Premier François Legault on Wednesday, acknowledged that she understands that teachers and educators are feeling stressed about returning to work, but she said people who are under the age of 70 face minimal risks to their health.
“Public health authorities tell us that, before the age of 70, it is possible to return to work without significant risk,” she said. “All Quebec employers are asked to take this into account.”
Guilbault’s message comes after Legault and provincial authorities had previously warned people over the age of 60 that they were at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
She said if workers comply with public health directives, such as adhering to social-distancing measures, they “can go back to work without being too worried.”
The provincial government is also investing $31 million as part of a mental-health plan to help Quebecers during the pandemic. Guilbault urged the public to seek help if they are feeling stressed or unwell.
“We are there for you,” she said.
Quebec remains the province hardest hit by COVID-19. The pandemic has led to outbreaks in Montreal and long-term care homes, which continue to face staffing shortages.
The number of cases continues to rise every day by the hundreds. There are more than 34,000 cases in the province to date — accounting for more than half of the country’s infections.
As of Wednesday, the respiratory illness has killed 112 more Quebecers. The province’s death toll stands at 2,510.
The government is also adjusting its plan for daycares as they reopen in areas outside of Greater Montreal next week.
Guilbault said they will operate at 30 per cent capacity at the start — which means there could not be enough space for all children. It is important to go slowly, she added.
“We are well aware that it can complicate things for some parents,” she said, asking for their understanding.
Montreal patients transferred elsewhere
Montreal — which continues to grapple with outbreaks — and the surrounding areas remain hard hit by the virus and a concern for provincial officials.
The city accounts for about half of the province’s cases with 17,442 infections as of Wednesday and authorities say there are high hospitalization rates.
“The situation in Montreal is very different from the rest of Quebec,” said Health Minister Danielle McCann.
As a result, patients at hospitals in the city have been transferred to different areas — including Montreal’s north and south shores. They have even been moved to as far as Trois-Rivières.
McCann said the transfers “relieve pressure” on Montreal’s hospitals, where COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported in recent weeks, but that precautions have been taken to curb the spread.
“I think, for other regions, all the precautions are taken, there are no risks,” she said.
Horacio Arruda, the director of Quebec public health, said the situation in Montreal remains preoccupying.
The plan to reopen daycares and schools in the Greater Montreal area on May 19 hasn’t changed, but Arruda said authorities will be evaluating the numbers over the next week.
“I am under the impression that our authorities will have to make a decision, in particular to be able to let people prepare,” he said.
Medical outings allowed for some prisoners
Quebec’s prison system is facing a challenge when it comes to containing the spread of the virus, Guilbault said. There have been reported cases of COVID-19 in prisons across the province.
On Wednesday, Guilbault announced the government will grant medical outings for some inmates.
However, she stressed that only a limited group of prisoners will be allowed to do so.
“No inmate who has committed a violent crime will leave prison,” she said.
— With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher and the Canadian Press