Quebec is softening restrictions on gatherings that were implemented to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus after roughly two months of lockdown.
Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault announced the measure during the province’s briefing on Wednesday, saying that a maximum of 10 people from three different households will be allowed to see one another as of Friday.
The gatherings must be outside and people should still keep two metres apart under the rules, according to Guilbault.
“We have to find a balance between our battle on the virus and the fact we want to return to a somewhat normal life,” she said.
Indoor gatherings, such as dinners and parties, are not permitted. Guilbault said the province wants to see how this next step goes.
“The situation remains fragile and we must remain cautious,” she said. “But for now it will allow us to see friends and enjoy the good weather that is coming. I think it will do us all good.”
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Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of Quebec public health, said they opted not to go for the exclusive household that some other provinces have put in place because it could cause tension. Nova Scotia, for example, allows two households to come together without physical distancing.
However, Arruda encouraged Quebecers to see the same people as much as possible when they do meet for outdoor gatherings.
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“We suggest that it stays the same group for two weeks,” he said.
Guilbault added it was time to be realistic and that people were fed up with isolation measures, but she stressed that restrictive measures could come back into effect if necessary. She said police officers will not be going to people’s homes or backyards and called on Quebecers to respect the rules.
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“If we see that there is an undesired effect on the contagion, well, we have to go back,” she said. “So we ask people to be respectful.”
Quebec recorded 578 new infections, bringing the province’s total to 44,775 on Wednesday. The province has the highest caseload in the country, accounting for more than half of Canada’s total.
The respiratory illness killed 71 more Quebecers. The death toll stands at 3,718.
Salons, hairdressers to reopen, except in Greater Montreal
Quebec is also moving forward with a staggered reopening of the next wave of businesses beginning next month.
Under the plan, private health services are allowed to resume on June 1 across the province. This includes dentistry, which has been limited to urgent procedures.
Also included are companies that offer therapeutic help such as, physiotherapy, psychology, optometry, social work, family therapy, nutrition, other types of alternative medicine and even pet grooming.
A complete list can be found on the Quebec government’s website.
Health Minister Danielle McCann warned, however, that resumption of these activities has to be done while ensuring everyone’s protection.
To that end, the workers health and safety board (CNESST) has made tool-kits available on its website to help workers and employers implement the proper safety measures, such as installing barriers and how to disinfect and sterilize tools and surfaces.
Clients will also have a role to play.
McCann said anyone with symptoms of the respiratory illness, including fever, coughing, loss of smell or taste, must cancel their appointment, isolate themselves for 14 days and call 1-877-644-4545 to arrange a screening test.
“People cannot have a fever or have had a fever in the last 48 hours or any symptoms for at least 24 hours before an appointment,” McCann said. “And a person who has developed COVID-19 must wait 14 days after the beginning of the symptoms before their appointment will be able to take place.”
Beauty and esthetic services, such as salons, tattoo parlours, spas, will be allowed to reopen on June 1 in most regions, except for the Greater Montreal area and Joliette.
“We realize the extent to which it plays a role in the collective well-being, be it mentally or physically,” said Labour Minister Jean Boulet, justifying the decision to reopen the businesses.
He also noted the importance of their economic role.
“The personal care sector is made up of about 4,000 businesses,” he said. “There are many independent workers in this sector and it employs about 49,000 people so it’s still a big part of our economy.”
A date for reopening Montreal-area esthetic businesses has not yet been decided.
“It will be done with special health measures to protect everyone,” said Guilbault.
The move comes as retail stores and some businesses have been given the green light to reopen in most parts of Quebec, with Montreal to follow suit on May 25.
— With files from the Canadian Press