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Quebec injects $400M in emergency funding to help public transit agencies amid coronavirus crisis

Commuters keep their distances in a subway train in Montreal, on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Public transit agencies in Quebec are receiving $400 million in emergency assistance to help weather the novel coronavirus crisis.

The provincial government announced the measure on Thursday, saying half of the investment could come from Ottawa based on recent funding announcements.

As lockdown restrictions continue to be lifted, Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel said the financial boost will help public transit authorities as commuters return to their services.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the province’s public transit companies and organizations have maintained their activities despite a sharp drop in customers, while respecting the health rules in force,” he said in a statement.

READ MORE: Montreal, Laval public transit agencies hand out free masks amid COVID-19 pandemic

Under the plan, public transit companies and the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain are eligible for funding. Municipal and inter-municipal organizations that provide public transportation can also apply.

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante commended the decision on social media, thanking the province for addressing the city’s needs.

“This is the first step in the right direction,” she wrote.

The Société de transport de Montréal (STM), the city’s public transit authority, has seen ridership on buses and metros drastically drop since restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus were first implemented in March.

In May, the STM boosted its service and is offering thousands of free masks as commuters slowly return amid the pandemic.

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Quebec first responders insist they take PPE seriously – Jun 17, 2020

The Union des municipalités du Québec (UMQ), which represents municipalities across the province, also welcomed the emergency funding.

Ste-Julie Mayor Suzanne Roy said in a statement that the assistance is a “significant gesture” that will help municipalities absorb the financial burdens of the pandemic.

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“The financial impact study that we have produced puts the loss of municipal budgets due to COVID-19 at almost $ 1.4 billion,” she said.  “The lion’s share is for public transportation, with $670 million in losses.”

As the pandemic drags on, the UMQ is calling on the federal government to provide more support for small municipalities hit hard by the crisis so they can recover. It wants a long-term plan.

Quebec leads country in cases, deaths

Quebec reported 42 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the province’s total to 5,340. Eleven of those fatalities occurred in the past day, while 31 victims died before June 10.

The province also reported 120 new cases of COVID-19 from the previous day, for a total of 54,383. Canada has surpassed 100,000 cases.

There are now 637 people hospitalized in the province with COVID-19, down 53 from the previous day. Of those, 65 patients are in intensive care, a reduction of seven.

Quebec says 22,754 cases are considered recovered.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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