Indoor and outdoor public gatherings of up to 250 people are now allowed across Quebec, as the province continues to ease restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure applies only to public venues such as theatres, concert halls, houses of worship and indoor amateur sporting events, and stipulates that measures such as physical distancing and mask-wearing must be respected as much as possible.
The new rule, however, does not apply to private gatherings in homes which are still limited to 10 people.
Health officials have maintained that the situation in Quebec is under control, allowing for the bigger gatherings.
The province is reporting 123 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the provincial total to 59,722 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
Two new deaths were recorded on Monday, but officials say one death happened before July 26, bringing the tally to 5,683 fatalities.
The number of patients requiring hospitalization remains unchanged at 172. Of those, 18 are in intensive care, an increase of one since Sunday.
During a provincial briefing on Monday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé reiterated the new rules applied to venues hosting public gatherings.
“I would like to remind you and everybody, that the number of people authorized is for indoor locations at any one time has risen from 50 to 250, but this limit applies to meeting venues, cinemas, performance halls, places of worship,” he said, noting rules for other types of public settings would be forthcoming on Wednesday.
Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said the reason for allowing the increase from 50 to 250 for public gatherings was because of the “controlled area” where they are taking place.
“We have not noticed any outbreaks related to the 50,” he said. “If we had some, we would probably have questioned the situation.”
“In a space large enough to have 250 persons who are going to go to a show, sit in a chair separate by 1.5 metres, I think the risk there is very acceptable.”
One infectious disease specialist Global News spoke to agrees the daily provincial COVID-19 numbers are encouraging.
“As I think about it, and as I look at the numbers it’s not necessarily a bad idea,” said McGill University Health Centre epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos of allowing larger gatherings.
Labos does worry, however, that the province isn’t prepared to control potential outbreaks stemming from those gatherings.
“The key to controlling the outbreak if you’re going to have large gatherings is whether you can adequately do contact tracing when people get sick,” he said.
“My worry is that we don’t have the infrastructure and systems in place to adequately do that.”
From a public health perspective, Labos contends holding off on larger gatherings would have been a good idea.
“We’re still in a relatively good place now, the problem is because of the way the virus operates and the way testing happens whatever we do today, the consequences only become manifest maybe two to four weeks down the road,” he said.
“That being said, I realize there are other considerations. There’s the economy and there’s people’s happiness — so you have to weigh all these things.”
Ease of restrictions good news for performing arts?
While the bigger gatherings are good news in art and entertainment circles, Global News theatre contributor Richard “Bugs” Burnett said he doesn’t expect much will change in the near future.
Most shows in large venues have already been cancelled and the cost and logistics involved in putting together big shows mean a slower return to normal.
“I don’t think we”re looking at big shows until September of 2021,” Burnett said.
“I think what you’re going to see is local acts are going to have local concerts,” Burnett continued.
Allowing for bigger crowds may seem like a lifeline to struggling businesses but Burnett said many smaller venues hosting live shows are already operating at capacity under public health guidelines.
“Even with the increase to 250, your bar isn’t going to get any bigger. You can’t fit in any more people as it is,” he said.
Burnett believes now, more than ever, is the time to “think local.”
“We’ve got to support local because the local businesses and local artists really need our support big time right now,” he said.
Other entertainment industry players are calling on the Quebec government to provide more support to help struggling businesses weather the storm.
“Our latest data show that art and recreation businesses face greatest risk of closure,” said Gopinath Jeyabalaratnam a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“Roughly 30 per cent, according to our survey are at risk. So we can say that they need more help, because they are really impacted due to COVID-19.”
— With files from The Canadian PressView link »