Quebec restaurant and bar owners mull reopening in defiance of COVID-19 health orders

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WATCH: Quebec bar and restaurant owners are pleading for government intervention and funding to keep them afloat. The Quebec bar owner's association says it believes 50 per cent of the industry will not survive this latest round of closures. And as Raquel Fletcher reports, there's still no plan from the government for when they'll be able to re-open – Jan 21, 2022

Hundreds of Quebec restaurant and bar owners are considering opening their doors at the end of January in defiance of government COVID-19 health orders, the head of a group representing bar owners said Friday.

A movement that began with a few restaurants sharing a message on social media appears to be growing, Renaud Poulin, head of the Corporation des Proprietaires de Bars, Brasseries et Tavernes du Quebec, said in an interview.

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In recent days, he said he’s received calls and emails from hundreds of businesses who are inquiring about the consequences of reopening on Jan. 30, although he said it’s not clear how many will follow through.

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Poulin said his organization doesn’t advise restaurant owners to defy health rules because of the sanctions they can face, but he said he understands their frustration.

“There are financial consequences, but they’re so desperate about losing everything, it might be the only solution left to them,” he said.

Financial aid offered by the government is insufficient and complicated to access, he said, adding that Quebec has not given any timeline on when business can reopen.

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While the original social media message made reference to reopening without checking vaccine passports, Poulin said the “vast majority” of owners want to take precautions and respect health measures, including verifying patrons’ vaccination statuses.

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Gyms, bars and entertainment venues have been closed since December, as have restaurant dining rooms.

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While Ontario has announced a plan to ease restrictions, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday the situation in Quebec remained too fragile to follow suit, even though hospitalizations appeared to be peaking.

“I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said.

Pascal Galante, owner of Zoe Fondues Karaoke & Cocktails, in Montreal, said the feeling among restaurant and bar owners is one of “complete despair.”

In a phone interview, he said owners feel “totally disrespected” by the government, which he said often announces new restrictions last minute, giving owners only days to prepare. Government aid, on the other hand, takes months to come, he added.

He said the latest provincial aid program requires a “ton of paperwork” that can take weeks to fill out, adding that the money often comes several months later — far too late for owners who have endured nearly two years of on-and-off closures. He said the federal programs aren’t better and he’s still waiting for help from programs he applied to months ago.

This is after many owners, including himself, have jumped through hoops to ensure health measures are respected, including spending thousands on Plexiglas, spacing out tables and increasing cleaning, he said.

He said his business revenue declined about 85 per cent last year, adding that he believes most of his employees will never return because they feel they’ll be laid off again.

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Galante did not confirm whether he will open his dining room on Jan. 30 in defiance of the rules, saying only that it “gives something to think about.”

At this point, the government needs to “give us money to help us get through this, or let us work,” he said.

Meanwhile, Quebec on Friday reported 59 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus and a drop of 60 COVID-19-related hospitalizations. It was the second consecutive day hospitalizations have decreased in the province.

Health officials said 3,351 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, after 346 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 406 were discharged. They said 265 patients are in intensive care, a drop of 20.

Officials reported 5,995 new cases, although they have warned that the case count isn’t representative of the situation because PCR testing is reserved for certain high-risk groups.

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