Quebec reported its lowest daily infection count in weeks on Monday as non-essential retail stores, personal-care salons and museums reopened across the province following a strict lockdown.
In six, less populated regions, including the Gaspe peninsula and the Saguenay area north of Quebec City, gyms and in-person dining were also permitted to reopen.
Quebec reported 853 new cases of COVID-19 and 17 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two that occurred in the past 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose by six, to 969, and 160 people were in intensive care, an increase of two.
Universities and junior colleges were allowed to partially reopen on Monday. Classes across most of the province were permitted to resume at 50 per cent capacity, while in the six outlying regions, they could open fully as long as physical distancing was maintained.
And while the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has dropped in recent weeks, the government has said it’s still too early to remove measures such as the nighttime, provincewide curfew.
The six, less-populated regions moved into the lower, “orange” pandemic-alert level on Monday, and the curfew’s start was pushed back to 9:30 p.m. The rest of the province, including Montreal and Quebec City, remain in the “red” level and under an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Quebec is also allowing people across the province to participate in outdoor activities with people outside their households. Residents in most of the province will be able to meet outside with up to three people from other households, while in orange zones, the limit will be increased to eight.
Indoor gatherings are still prohibited, and bars remain closed. The government continues to require anyone who can work from home to do so.
Restaurants in orange zones will only be allowed to seat two adults and their children at each table, and reservations will be mandatory to facilitate contact tracing and to prevent people from outside the region from travelling for a dinner out.
The reopening of non-essential retail shops comes as a huge sigh of relief for some of the industry’s sectors that have faced the most headwinds during the pandemic, such as clothing stores.
“Fashion being seasonal, the season for winter wasn’t over, because it’s usually during Boxing Week that we start liquidating all the stock, and into early January,” The Retail Council of Canada’s Quebec President Marc Fortin told Global News. “Well, now we’re in February and there’s still a lot of winter inventory. That’s cashflow being tied into inventory.”
Fortin added that the economic health of retail sectors like fashion have a much greater impact than just the salespeople in malls.
“We’ve had so many (companies), like Aldo, Reitmans, Tristan, Panda, and others, went under bankruptcy protection,” he said. “And what’s sad is in the fashion industry, a lot of the head offices are here in Quebec.”
— With files from Global’s Benson Cook.