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‘The virus is still there,’ Legault says as Quebec sees lowest coronavirus case increase since April

WATCH: Quebec officials provide update on COVID-19 pandemic

Quebecers are asked to remain vigilant and follow public health guidelines as the province recorded its lowest number of new novel coronavirus cases in more than a month on Tuesday.

Premier François Legault said during his briefing the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is to keep up social-distancing measures even as other restrictions are softened.

“The situation remains stable in our hospitals, the number of deaths continue to be lowered in the past few weeks and we have the lowest number of cases since April 11,” he said. “It’s encouraging but it’s not time to let our guard down.

“The virus is still there, not only in Montreal, and we must continue to protect ourselves and to protect others.”

READ MORE: Montrealers must keep up social distancing as warm weather sets in, authorities say

Quebec remains the province hardest hit by the pandemic, where infections and deaths account for roughly half of Canada’s total.

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The respiratory illness has killed 3,647 Quebecers, an increase of 51 fatalities from the previous day. There are 44,197 cases after 570 infections were reported on Tuesday.

As the province looks to reopen businesses and daycares in hard-hit Montreal in the coming weeks, Legault said the government is working on a recovery plan for other sectors and activities.

“There are still discussions to be held. And what I said earlier is that we should be able, in the coming days, to be able to table this plan,” he said.

‘You are in the process of killing us’

Nurses held a demonstration outside of Legault’s office in Quebec City on Tuesday to draw attention to difficult working conditions during the pandemic.

Nancy Bédard, president of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ), stood before the crowd and criticized the government’s handling of the crisis. She said workers have been forced to work overtime and give up their vacations.

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“We are already tired,” she said. “You are in the process of killing us.”

Click to play video 'Tired, frustrated nurses protest outside premier’s office in Quebec City' Tired, frustrated nurses protest outside premier’s office in Quebec City
Tired, frustrated nurses protest outside premier’s office in Quebec City

READ MORE: Quebec deaths climb by 82, health-care whistleblower email announced

Legault, for his part, said he was disappointed by the demonstration and he wants to meet with union representatives.

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He added that one of the fixes is to hire more workers, something he said his government has tried to do but positions are not being filled.

“I think we can find some common goals, common solutions,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the time to be on the streets in front of my office.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec premier welcomes decision to extend Canada-U.S. border closure' Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec premier welcomes decision to extend Canada-U.S. border closure
Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec premier welcomes decision to extend Canada-U.S. border closure

Legault calls for longer border closure

Canada and the United States have agreed to extend the closure of their shared border to non-essential travel for another 30 days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the decision will help keep both countries safe during the pandemic.

Legault, however, said he wants to see the agreement extended into the summer to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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“I’m happy that we have another month,” he said. “I would like that we go another month after in July until we really have control.”

While non-essential travel has been temporarily banned, essential travel at the land border is still permitted. This includes the transportation of goods and travel for work purposes.

The U.S. has more than 1.5 million active cases of COVID-19, which represents 42 per cent of the world’s active caseload.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: U.S.-Canada border closure extended another 30 days' Coronavirus outbreak: U.S.-Canada border closure extended another 30 days
Coronavirus outbreak: U.S.-Canada border closure extended another 30 days

Will Quebec follow Ontario’s lead?

As Ontario launches an independent commission into its long-term care home system, which has been hard hit by the pandemic, Legault said he hasn’t ruled out doing the same.

Quebec’s long-term care homes have been at the centre of the health crisis. The facilities are often understaffed and have been grappling with outbreaks.

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However, Legault noted the neighbouring province’s commission isn’t public and that his government remains firm on “getting to the bottom of things.”

READ MORE: Ontario to hold independent commission into long-term care home system

“I would like to know exactly what happened and what are the solutions, the changes we need to make in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen anymore,” Legault said.

When it comes to the health-care network, Legault said 145 more employees who had left work after testing positive for the virus are slowly returning to their jobs and easing pressure on the system.

“So it continues to improve, but there is still — and it’s important to say this — a lot of work to do there,” he said.

With files from Global News’ Beatrice Britneff and the Canadian Press