Canadian Manufacturing

Quebec delays reopening of businesses in hard hit Montreal until May 18

The majority of the province's 1,772 hospitalized patients are in Montreal, leading to tight situations in some hospitals

May 5, 2020  The Canadian Press

Montreal businesses will have to wait at least one extra week to welcome customers, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said May 4, citing high hospitalization numbers as a reason to push back the planned reopening from May 11 to May 18.

As the province began removing police roadblocks limiting travel in some regions and allowing retail shops in much of the province to resume business, Legault pushed back the reopening of non-essential stores in the Montreal area.

He said that while the hospital situation is currently under control, there aren’t enough empty beds to accommodate a surge in patients after more people go out and get sick.

“We know that if … and when we reopen stores, we’ll probably have more cases in our hospitals,” he said in Quebec City.

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“So right now the situation is under control with the way it’s managed, with the number of people we have right now continuing to stay at home. But if we reopen a bit, we need to have a margin, and we don’t see this margin today.”

While the province freed up some 7,000 hospital beds across the province at the beginning of the pandemic, Legault said the majority of the province’s 1,772 hospitalized patients are in Montreal, leading to tight situations in some hospitals.

More than 60% of deaths in the province have occurred in long-term care homes, however there have also been outbreaks in hospitals and in some Montreal neighbourhoods, including Montreal-Nord in the province’s north end.

Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said health officials want to investigate the origin of hospitalized cases and get a better picture of community outbreaks before allowing stores to reopen.

The number of cases in hospital is stable, but has not declined as hoped, he said.

Legault says the construction and manufacturing sectors across Quebec will reopen as scheduled on May 11.

Elementary schools and daycares are scheduled to resume, with distancing measures in place, on May 11 in regions outside Montreal and on May 19 in Montreal.

For the moment, Legault chose not to change that date for Montreal, but said he would make a “data-driven decision” based on the numbers in the coming days.

In an afternoon news conference, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said she supported the province’s decision, which she said would allow the city to better prepare for an eventual reopening of businesses and schools.

Most retail stores outside the Montreal were allowed to reopen their doors on Monday, as long as they have dedicated entrances to the outside.

Francois Vincent, the Quebec vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said there isn’t any reason for customers to be apprehensive if stores have enacted guidelines to ensure safety.

“I think customers love their small, independent stores and want to contribute and think about them,” Vincent said. “But, if you don’t allow them to open, it’s difficult for customers to ‘shop small.”’

Vincent suggested authorities could look into innovative solutions, such as curbside pickup, to allow stores in Montreal to resume business while maintaining distancing.

Quebec recorded another 75 COVID-19 deaths, for a total of 2,280, and the province announced 32,623 confirmed cases of the virus, an increase of 758.

The province’s official Opposition earlier called on the government to push back the dates for reopening businesses and schools in the Montreal area.

Quebec Liberal Leader Pierre Arcand said it was too early to consider easing COVID-19 containment measures in the city, which counted over 16,600 cases and 1,140 deaths as of May 4.

In a news conference in front of a COVID-stricken long-term care home, Arcand said the province should first increase its testing rate and bring the transmission of the virus under control.

On Monday afternoon, Montreal announced it was partnering with the city’s transit agency to use buses to create mobile testing units.

Mylene Drouin, the region’s public health director, said the units would travel to neighbourhoods with the greatest number of new cases or those where the population has less access to testing due to barriers such as language.

The city has also opened new testing sites in hard-hit neighbourhoods and is expanding testing criteria to allow any Montrealers with symptoms to obtain a COVID-19 test.

Plante said she intended to announce a “vast urban transportation plan” that would give more space to pedestrians and cyclists for the summer months and reduce crowding on city streets.

— By Morgan Lowrie

— With files from Julian McKenzie