Montreal businesses closed since late March due to the coranavirus pandemic are getting set to reopen on Monday.
Most Quebec retailers outside the Montreal area have been allowed to open since May 4, as long as they have a door with street access and can ensure physical distancing.
The date for reopening was pushed back to May 25 in the Greater Montreal area after the government deemed the required criteria to safely reopen had not been met.
At the time, Premier François Legault pointed to high COVID-19 infection rates and a shortage of health-care workers in the area.
Montreal’s regional public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said Thursday, that despite 328 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours for a total of 23, 064 cases, the overall situation seems to be improving.
“If we look at new hospitalizations and the ICU, we can clearly see a downward trend,” she said. “And globally, when we look at the epidemic curve of Montreal — even that of certain hot spots, we are on that downward trend.”
The numbers may be encouraging but both Drouin and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante warned that a successful reopening was a collective responsibility.
“We still have to be very cautious,” Plante said. “The way that we will behave as consumers and business owners is really crucial here.”
Social distancing remains paramount, as do other public health recommendations including respiratory etiquette and handwashing, as well as the wearing of masks on public transit, in stores and in situations where keeping two metres apart is difficult.
In an effort to support local businesses, the city of Montreal announced a new $150,000 partnership with Architects without Borders.
The idea is to make expert advice available to business owners on how to rearrange the inside of their stores in order to respect physical distancing and public health guidelines.
The volunteer-based organization will also be creating an open access guide available in June.
Plante said 60 additional inspectors made up of 40 prevention officers with the Montreal fire department and 20 food inspectors will be deployed in the field to raise awareness and do prevention work to ensure businesses are respecting physical distancing.
“The reopening of stores is a major step,” Plante said, hammering home that for it to work everyone needs to do their part.
She reiterated the need for people to wear face coverings and suggested that consumers be mindful of how they shop to cut down ofn time spent in stores and the frequency of visits.
“My example would be if we’re thinking of doing a cake, we get everything in one time,” she said. “We don’t get the eggs and the milk the day after.”
These measures are welcomed by the Crescent Merchants Association but the group says it leaves restaurant and bar owners wondering what is in the cards for them.
“These measures can help,” said president Steve Siozos. “These measures give some help in terms of what we can look forward to in the future but we need to have an idea of timetable, whether it’s a month or two.”
Some restaurants are currently open but for take-out only.
“We really need some clarity on that because hope is fleeting these days in our industries,” Siozos added.