Coronavirus: Kahnawake hits pause on reopening plans as Quebec numbers remain steady

A sign for the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve where plans to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic have been put on pause. Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

While Quebec moved this week to allow gatherings of up to 250 people both indoors and outdoors, a Mohawk community south of Montreal is taking a much more cautious approach amid a steady number of COVID-19 cases in the province.

Officials in Kahnawake say they will stick to a 50-person limit for gatherings and say a plan to open bars and gaming establishments next Monday has been postponed indefinitely.

The body overseeing Kahnawake’s pandemic response said in a statement on Monday that the decision comes as statistical trends suggest there will be an increase in the weekly number of new infections in the province.

Arnold Lazare of the community’s COVID-19 Task Force said residents have reacted positively to the news, and that they will continue their conservative approach.

“Kahnawake has a responsibility to the vulnerable population, the elders and the youth,” Lazare said Tuesday.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Public gatherings of up to 250 people now allowed in Quebec

Elders were deemed most at-risk first and now that has fallen to the youth.

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“But in the culture, we have a responsibility not for this generation but for the next seven generations,” Lazare said. “When we look at the elders, we want to keep the elders. And the decisions we make have to be based on the youth, for the youth.”

Lazare says he is “disappointed” at other parts of the province for loosening their restrictions, including allowing gatherings of up to 250 people.

“We don’t see the logic,” Lazare said.

A petition against the measure started last week by David Zukor, a local orthopedic surgeon, had garnered over 9,000 signatures by late Tuesday afternoon.

Click to play video: 'Kahnawake community fighting to keep it’s community safe from COVID-19'
Kahnawake community fighting to keep it’s community safe from COVID-19


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Zukor, who is not a public-health doctor, says he feels indoor gatherings are “the biggest red flag” when it comes to COVID risk, especially when it comes to weddings or other events when discipline might slip.

“Our lives have progressed a lot since March and April … it’s not perfect but it’s far from terrible and I don’t want to go back to terrible again,” he said

But provincial health authorities have said the decision to allow public gatherings of up to 250 people comes with a relatively low risk of COVID-19 transmission compared to other riskier social activities.

The measure came into effect on Monday and 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.

Read more: Kanesatake grand chief says deal reached to partly reopen Oka provincial park

The limit on private gatherings in homes and chalets remains at 10 people.

Quebec reported 123 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday along with two additional deaths.

The Health Department reported three fewer hospitalizations for 169, but three more patients are in intensive care, for a total of 21.

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The province has been hardest hit by the pandemic in Canada, recording 59,845 cases and 5,685 deaths.

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