Quebec has once again revised its recovery plan and is pushing back reopening elementary schools, daycares and businesses in the Greater Montreal area as the coronavirus crisis deepens.
Premier François Legault said on Thursday that schools and daycares in the city and surrounding areas will open on May 25, one week later than previously announced. Businesses will also open on that day.
The delay comes as Montreal, which remains hard hit by the virus, faces high COVID-19 infection rates, according to Legault. He also cited a shortage of health-care workers in the area.
“We are seeing that the conditions to keep our initial reopening calendar in Montreal are not met for the moment,” he said.
The postponed dates are not finalized, he stressed. Legault said the education and business sectors will only open in the Greater Montreal area if the right conditions are met.
“If and only if the situation improves,” he said.
The government has been criticized by school boards and concerned parents for its plans to reopen in Montreal as cases continue to climb.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante commended the province’s decision to postpone, saying the health of the public comes first as the city continues to face the pandemic.
The move comes as Quebec reported an additional 121 deaths on Thursday, bringing the province’s death toll to 2,631.
The province’s total number of cases is now 35,238, an increase of 911 infections from the previous day. Montreal has more than 17,000 cases.
While Quebec’s death and case numbers continue to rise on a daily basis, the provincial government has started to ease restrictions related to the coronavirus and officials say the pandemic isn’t affecting other regions to the same extent.
“The rest of Quebec is paradise,” said Horacio Arruda, the director of Quebec public health. “We’re living two different worlds.”
The staggered relaunch of elementary schools, daycares and businesses is still underway in other parts of the province.
Quebec boosts bonuses for health-care workers
Health-care employees on the front lines of the crisis will see their salaries temporarily topped off by the province.
The bonus applies to employees in long-term care homes, private residences for seniors and in “hot zones” of hospitals.
Legault said the health-care system is missing about 11,600 workers who are absent because they are sick or they are unwilling to come back to work. He said the boost should help motivate health-care professionals to return to their jobs.
Under the plan, a person who works full time, or 36.5 hours per week, would receive a premium of approximately $1,000 per month.
Treasury Board president Christian Dubé said the bonus would apply to about 100,000 workers.
Quebec is also offering $2,000 per month to regional health-care workers who agree to work in the hard-hit Montreal, Laval and Montérégie areas.
Legault defends change of tune over age requirements
Legault defended the province’s urging for teachers and daycare educators over 60 to return to their jobs once they are able to — after he had previously said otherwise.
The premier and other officials 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.
When asked about the changing messages, Legault said the situation is evolving. He said that Quebecers between the ages of 60 to 69 account for 6.5 of deaths attributable to COVID-19.
He also described it as the government trying to balance liberty and health when it comes to permitting older workers to return to their jobs.
The about-face on allowing people between the ages of 60 to 69 to work has been met with criticism from labour federations, however.
Daniel Boyer, president of the La Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, called it “simply incomprehensible and absurd.”
“For weeks, we’ve been told repeatedly to stay home, to avoid gatherings and now, with the touch of a magic wand, people over 60 years of age are no longer at risk,” he said in a statement. “What is this?”
— With files from the Canadian Press