Quebec dropped the ball on initial COVID-19 response, opposition claims

Quebec Liberal Party MNA Dominique Anglade. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

One day after Dr. Horacio Arruda’s testimony before the national assembly, Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade took aim at the government’s early response to the pandemic.

During Wednesday’s hearing on the Legault government’s COVID-19 response, Anglade focused her questions on the chronology of events since January. It was the first time since the pandemic broke out nine months ago that Arruda was questioned directly by MNAs.

No one informed Legault of the seriousness of the COVID-19 epidemic before March 9, Anglade said in a press conference Thursday.

She noted that on Jan. 12, Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, said that “if the virus leaves China, we are in trouble,” which happened the next day.

Arruda wrote his first “situation report” on Jan. 21, a communication that he said must have made its way through the administrative apparatus, he testified Wednesday.

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Arruda said he did not attend a public security meeting that was held on Jan. 24.

The first case of COVID-19 appeared in Quebec on Feb. 27, while Arruda was outside the province.

It was not until March 9 that Legault was informed of the seriousness of the situation and that a crisis response team was created, Anglade said Thursday.

“There is a real problem. How is it that the information was not communicated before that? It is aberrant, honestly,” Anglade added.

The Liberal Party is convinced that the government could have acted sooner, in particular, to ensure an adequate supply of protective equipment, especially masks.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Arruda said the province’s response team had been formed at an “adequate” moment since public health was “in control.”

“We asked Dr. Arruda questions and several remained unanswered,” Anglade said Thursday. “It reminds us of the importance of having a truly independent public inquiry.”

The opposition also drew attention to Arruda’s statement that he never recommended closing restaurants during the second wave.

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“We had not shown that people were not following the instructions,” he said during his testimony Wednesday, acknowledging that the decision to close the dining rooms in the red zone was political.

Some restaurant owners were quick to react to Arruda’s statement, demanding a response from the government.

Quebec opposition party Quebec Solidaire called on Legault to apologize to restaurant owners, claiming he chose to “abandon” them contrary to what was recommended by public health.

PQ Leader Pascal Bérubé urged the government to directly compensate restaurant owners for lost revenue, based on sales figures from last year.

In response to Arruda’s statement, Christian Dubé, minister of health, said he was convinced that the decision to close the dining rooms of restaurants was the right one.

“It was important for us to limit the number of contacts between people, and particularly … on the issue of restaurants, bars, meeting places,” he said.

“There are times when we decided … to be more careful and perhaps go beyond the recommendations that were made,” he said.

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