All schools will remain closed in the Greater Montreal area until September as the novel coronavirus health crisis bears down on the region.
Quebec Premier François Legault said he wanted to allow students to return to school, but the situation remains “fragile” in Montreal, the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Canada.
“Right now the situation is such that we cannot take this chance,” he said during his briefing on Thursday.
Montreal-area schools, daycares and businesses were supposed to reopen on May 25 after the date was pushed back, but now daycares in the region will only reopen June 1. No firm decision has been taken on businesses.
“We will still give ourselves a few days to make a decision on retail businesses,” Legault said. “A crucial element that would help us to reopen is for the majority of people to wear a mask in public.”
The decision to extend the closures comes as public health conditions have not yet been met in the region unlike other parts of Quebec that have started to reopen, according to Legault. Amid high hospitalization and infection rates, both provincial and local officials remain concerned about the virus’s progression in Montreal.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said keeping schools closed is the right thing to do given the circumstances. Her administration is looking at ways to provide support to families during the pandemic, she added.
“It is necessary to limit the spread of the virus,” she said.
Quebec leads the country with the highest caseload at more than 40,000 infections as of Thursday. Montreal accounts for roughly half at 20,633 cases.
The respiratory illness has killed 3,351 Quebecers to date, including than 2,000 people on the island since the health crisis began.
Horacio Arruda, the director of Quebec public health, said on Thursday it is important to go slowly when lifting confinement measures in affected areas and for Montrealers to keep practicing social-distancing measures.
“It’s not because we want to lock you up, it’s that we want to reopen as quickly as possible,” he said.
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In Quebec, the education and business sectors have partially reopened in most regions amid physical-distancing and strict hygiene restrictions. High schools, CEGEPs and universities will reopen in the fall as planned.
Relief over delay, but work still needs to be done
While concerns were raised by parents and teachers’ unions over the government’s plan to reopen schools and daycares, the delay gives them more time to prepare for when students head back to class.
Marie-Claude Lemieux, a spokesperson for Quebec’s association of daycares, said keeping Montreal daycares closed until June will give them more time to prepare and acquire more personal protective equipment for educators.
“With this added time to get prepared, hopefully it will reassure all the workers of our network just to make sure we can work in a safe environment,” she said.
Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said there is some relief, but that a lot of work still has to be done. Teachers will be turning their attention to online learning in the meantime, she added.
Quebec nears testing targets, military members to stay until June
After voicing his frustration earlier this week over missed testing targets, the premier said Quebec is closer to reaching its goal.
The province is aiming to issue 14,000 tests per day. Legault said 13,291 tests were administered on Wednesday.
The announcement comes after Quebec repeatedly failed to reach those targets over the past week.
The Canadian Armed Forces will also remain in embattled long-term care homes until at least mid-June, Legault said.
Military members were deployed to help out in the facilities, many of which are facing staffing shortages and outbreaks, at the request of the Quebec government.
— With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and the Canadian Press