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COVID-19 in Quebec: Some businesses will reopen in May, but no return to ‘normal life,’ says premier

Some Quebec businesses will be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks, Premier François Legault announced Tuesday as part of the government’s plan to gradually restart the economy.

“The goal is to reopen gradually to see if there is an impact on contagion, if there is an impact on our hospitals,” Legault said at his daily news conference Tuesday.

Three types of businesses will be allowed to reopen in May:

  • Stores not including those in shopping malls.
  • Construction and civil engineering businesses.
  • Manufacturing businesses.

“Our society needs these entrepreneurs,” Legault said.

Retail stores that have an outdoor entrance will be allowed to reopen on May 4 throughout Quebec, except for in the greater Montreal region, where retail stores will reopen on May 11, said Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“This will allow 196,000 Quebecers to go back to work,” Fitzgibbon said.

Protective measures to ensure public health measures including physical distancing will remain in place and will be enforced by workplace health and safety authorities (CNESST), the minister said.

Once the construction sector is fully up and running starting May 11, another 85,000 workers will be back at work, said Fitzgibbon.

On May 11, all manufacturing companies will also be able to restart activities, but only 50 employees will be allowed to work at a time, and only half of a company’s workforce over the age of 50 will be allowed to return, initially.

On May 25, those restrictions will also be lifted. At that point, 176,000 people in the manufacturing sector will be back at work, Fitzgibbon said.

All these sectors are subject to being closed again, should reopening result in uncontrollable outbreaks, said Public Health Director Horacio Arruda.

The Economy Minister said people who are able to work from home are to continue to do so.

“That will help minimize the spread of the virus, and it will help minimize climate change,” Fitzgibbon said.

Legault stressed that reopening certain parts of the economy does not mean people should drop physical-distancing measures or begin to gather in groups once again.

“Continue to act as if everybody you meet has the virus,” Legault said.

Stark graphic of Quebec’s ‘2 worlds’

The premier began his daily briefing on Tuesday with the presentation of a chart that graphically depicts the “two worlds” that exist in Quebec right now, in terms of the toll COVID-19 is taking.

One curve tracks daily deaths over the course of the pandemic among the population at large, a second, daily deaths in long-term care homes in the province.

“One can see that deaths in CHSLDs are much higher,” said the premier, while there is almost no increase of deaths outside the long-term care homes, and that figure has been stable for the past 14 days.

“That plateau that’s been evident for two weeks allows us to say that the situation is under control, except for in CHSLDs,” the premier said.

This is a developing story and will be updated. Read an earlier version below.

Most elementary schools and daycares will reopen May 11, except for those in the greater Montreal area, which remains the epicentre of the pandemic.

On the island of Montreal, Laval and in surrounding suburbs, the reopening date is May 19.

“This decision to go back to school is a necessary one for education,” Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said, citing mental health reasons, access to food and the importance of continued learning for students with difficulties.

Parents will be the ones to decide whether or not to send their kids back, and children with health problems are being told not to go back right away.

All other schools — high schools, colleges and universities — won’t physically reopen until late August. But it’s legally mandatory for teens up to 16 years of age to be in school in Quebec, so they are expected to work from home.

Testing key to deconfinement

Epidemiologists say testing is the key to controlling the virus’s spread as restrictions are removed.

Public Health Director Horacio Arruda said Quebec is capable of increasing its testing rate to up to 15,000 per day, but it’s unclear if the province has the capacity to do so yet.

Quebec, like many jurisdictions, has faced shortages of the chemical reagents needed for testing, while thousands of testing swabs arrived in Quebec potentially contaminated.

On Friday, the Health Ministry said the availability of swabs was “a major challenge,” but on Monday, Legault said the province had 109,000 swabs in inventory.

The Quebec government has ordered 100 rapid-testing devices and 200,000 test kits from Spartan, an Ontario company. But the tests are only expected to arrive at the end of May, by which time most children will have returned to school.

“Time is very crucial in the control of an epidemic where the capacity of the virus to spread is very high,” said Dr. Nima Machouf, an epidemiologist and instructor in the school of public health at Université de Montréal.

“The capacity of each infected person to spread the virus to other people is much higher than what we thought at the beginning.”

CBC

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