Quebec criticized for allowing escape rooms to open while other entertainment remains closed

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WATCH: Movie theatres, museums, zoos and just about every other entertainment destination in Montreal have all been closed since the city entered the COVID-19 red zone. But as Global’s Dan Spector reports, one exception coming from Quebec's public health director is raising eyebrows, and sparking anger – Dec 2, 2020

Montreal entertainment destinations like movie theatres, museums and zoos have all been closed since the city entered the COVD-19 red zone.

However, according to Dr. Horacio Arruda, escape rooms fall under a different category and are allowed to be open.

Escape rooms like Echappe-Toi east of downtown lock you in a themed room with friends and family. You then find clues, crack secret codes, and try to escape within an hour.

Echappe-Toi owner Emmanuel de Gouvello spends much of his time maintaining and rethinking the nine rooms at the facility, but these days he’s spending most of his time trying to unravel the mystery of Quebec Public Health rules.

“This mixed message is absolutely unbearable,” he told Global News.

A government decree came down on Sept. 30, the day of the second shutdown, demanding the closure of all museums, arcades, theme parks and more. De Gouvello, who is also president of the Quebec Escape Room Association, assumed escape rooms in red zones would need to close too.

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His colleagues began to ask questions, as their business was not specifically mentioned in the decree.

Read more: Quebec sets single-day coronavirus record with 1,514 new cases

“Some of the members had a doubt that we were in the scope of the law,” he said.

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Echappe-Toi closed, but de Gouvello wrote to Montreal Public Health and the health minister, among others, in search of clarity.

The first to respond was Montreal Public Health. On Oct. 2, they wrote de Gouvello a letter seen by Global News, saying that escape rooms are not allowed in the red zone.

“Not only do they say that, but they write it,” he said.

Then, more than a month and a half later, he got another letter that shocked him.

“I got the letter from Dr. Arruda himself,” the escape room owner said.

He showed Global News a letter signed by Quebec’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, saying that escape rooms are not banned because they full under the category of hobbies and sports. Arruda said as long as people are either from the same household, or if it’s a pair who keep their distance, escape rooms can be open.

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“Everybody was really surprised,” de Gouvello said, as escape rooms across Quebec had been closed for weeks while they were apparently allowed to open.

He told Global News masks are strictly enforced, and all rooms are thoroughly cleaned between visitors.

Read more: Quebecers should brace themselves for no Christmas family gatherings: opposition

Still, he’s puzzled he can be allowed to open by a government consistently encouraging everyone to limit social contact, and doubts customers will even come if he re-opens.

“We’re sure it’s not dangerous to come here, but we’re not sure we’re going to have anybody here,” he said.

Another concern is that the type of government financial help available to businesses forced to close by public health rules is far less than what’s offered to business allowed to be open.

Quebec solidaire MNA Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois criticized the Legault government.

“Why are we opening escape rooms but museums are closed? When people see this kind of incoherence, it feeds mistrust,” he said at a press conference in Quebec City.

With their businesses still closed, restaurateurs and movie theatre owners are baffled

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“Like escape rooms, we can provide a safe environment to welcome customers in our restaurants,” said Martin Vezina of the Quebec Restaurant Association. “If Public Health wants us to only welcome people from the same family, we are happy to do it.”

“I think it shows the amateurism of how decisions are made during this pandemic,” said Vince Guzzo of Cinemas Guzzo, who believes seeing a movie in a socially distanced theatre would be far safer than spending an hour with others in a small escape room.

In a statement, the health ministry confirmed to Global News escape rooms are allowed to open in red zones.

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