Quebec is tightening controls and will enforce public health directives with a sweeping police operation over the weekend as novel coronavirus cases surge in the province.
Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault announced Friday that police officers will be visiting 1,000 bars, restaurants and other establishments with alcohol permits. The police operation, dubbed OSCAR, is to ensure rules are being respected and to prevent a second wave.
“Our police officers will be very visible all over Quebec during the entire weekend,” she said, adding efforts will particularly target the eight regions considered at higher risk, such as Montreal. Those regions could face further restrictions if the uptick isn’t reversed.
Business owners and customers caught violating the rules are subject to stiff fines that go up to $6,000, said Guilbault. The goal is to stop the growing spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“We have to do all we can as a society to fight COVID,” she said.
As part of the blitz, police officers can also call on public health and the province’s liquor board to intervene if necessary.
The operation in Quebec comes as Ontario has also tightened restrictions and boosted fines for those who don’t follow the rules. Canada’s top public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Friday that it “is the time for Canadians to redouble their efforts with personal precautions that will slow the spread of the virus.”
The number of new cases in Quebec has surged in recent weeks, leading authorities to call on citizens to limit their private gatherings as much as possible.
Guilbault said she understands Quebecers are tired of restrictions after a long six months, but it’s necessary to abide by them in order to prevent expansive lockdown measures. The province hasn’t enforced new measures when it comes to private events, but Guilbault said it is something the government is considering.
“Nobody wants to be re-confined,” she said.
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The health crisis has been hard on Quebec, which has had 66,653 cases to date. The province reported 297 new cases on Friday.
One additional death was recorded, but health authorities say it occurred at an unknown time. The death toll, which remains the highest in the country, stands at 5,792.
The number of hospitalizations remained unchanged from the previous day at 136. Of those patients, there are 30 in intensive care, an increase of one.
The province has given more than 2,000,000 tests since the beginning of the pandemic. Quebec administered 29,726 tests Wednesday, the latest day for which that information is available.
Montreal police to visit 250 establishments
Montreal police chief Sylvain Caron said about 40 police officers will be visiting 250 establishments in the area over the weekend.
When asked about the possibility of closing bars or shutting down places that serve alcohol, he said that only a small minority of patrons are not following COVID-19 health guidelines.
Montreal is currently one of the eight regions in the yellow zone, which calls for an early warning, as new cases continue to rise.
Mayor Valérie Plante said she welcomes the idea of a larger police presence in the city, but she says every citizen needs to contribute to fighting the possibility of a second wave.
“It’s a balance,” said Plante.
“We want to have more presence of police officers to make sure some of those spaces respect the rules.”
But, ultimately, it comes down to individuals to do what is needed to stave off a second wave, she added.
Montreal has been the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Canada, with more than 30,000 cases and 3,400 deaths to date.
— With files from Global News’ Felicia Parrillo and the Canadian Press