Quebec is making masks mandatory on public transit as of July 13 across the province to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus ahead of a possible second wave.
Premier François Legault unveiled the measure on Tuesday during an update in Montreal on his government’s response to the pandemic. The measure applies to all public transit users who are 12 and older.
“It’s a question of respect,” he said, adding that the province has reached a new step in its fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
There will be a transition period, however. Commuters will have two weeks to adapt and will only be barred from using public transit if they are not wearing a mask starting July 27. They will not be fined.
“We have to be careful,” Legault said.
Officials have pushed wearing a mask in situations where physical distancing isn’t possible, but resisted making them mandatory for a number of reasons, including access.
While masks will only obligatory on public transit, Legault said the province hasn’t ruled out making them mandatory in public spaces in the future.
The move comes one day after Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of Quebec public health, said obligatory masks were being discussed and hinted an announcement would be made in the coming days.
On Tuesday, Arruda urged Quebecers to take the measure seriously to protect themselves and others ahead of a possible second wave. Doing so will save lives, he added, especially if the disease continues to circulate in the fall.
“Please wear your masks,” he said. “I know it’s not normal but it should become a reflex.”
Infectious disease specialist and microbiologist Amir Khadir called the move “a shy and timid step” but one in the right direction.
Khadir is part of a group of about 30 Quebec doctors and health professionals who have been calling on the government to make the use of masks mandatory for people over 12 years-old in closed and crowded public spaces.
The former Quebec MNA argues several studies show that wearing face masks in crowded spaces is an effective way to contain the spread of COVID-19.
But in order for masks to be effective, he says at least 70 per cent of the population needs to wear one.
“We have two months before the worst window of time for a possible second wave,” Khadir told Global News. “It’s time to act; to curtail, contain as much as possible the second wave and it gives us time for the mandatory aspect to be adequately implemented for businesses all around.”
Quebec, the province hardest hit by the pandemic, has reported 55,458 cases as of Tuesday, up 68 from the previous day.
Since March, the health crisis has killed 5,503 people — accounting for more than half of Canada’s death toll. Quebec recorded 18 more deaths on Tuesday.
The government reinstated daily updates on new cases and deaths on Monday after facing backlash for favouring a weekly format.
As the province continues to gradually lift restrictions, Arruda said he was not happy with the rate of testing in Quebec, which reached a bit higher than 5,400 for a 24-hour period on Sunday. A new strategy is being discussed to boost the daily number of tests, he added.
Christian Dubé, the newly-appointed health minister taking over from Danielle McCann, said ramping up testing is a priority of the government.
“We need to look at how we can increase the number of tests and not wait until September,” he said.
— With files from the Canadian Press