'We expect the worst': Stores across Quebec get ready to close until at least Jan. 11

·4 min read

MONTREAL — There were few shoppers out on a wet, but relatively warm, Christmas Eve in Montreal, hours before most businesses across Quebec were scheduled to close for at least two weeks.

Around seven people waited in line outside V de V, a popular home decor boutique on St-Laurent Boulevard in the trendy Plateau borough. Corrine Cartier said she didn't mind waiting in line to shop at a local business. “I feel OK, I just need a few things,” she said. “I have time.”

Cartier said she understood why stores are being closed and she said she hoped neighbourhood businesses will survive. “It's been very difficult for them since March."

Quebec reported a record number of COVID-19 infections for the third consecutive day Thursday, ahead of a provincewide lockdown that will close most businesses until at least Jan. 11.

On Christmas Day, all businesses deemed "non-essential" by the government will be forced to close in an effort to reduce transmission and alleviate pressure on the health-care system. Schools closed on Dec. 17 and won't reopen until at least Monday, Jan. 11.

For most of the province, in-person dining, bars, gyms and entertainment venues have been closed since October.

The impending shutdown brought a few shoppers out.

Manu, who decline to give her last name, was waiting in a short line outside bookstore Drawn and Quarterly, in the Plateau's Mile-End neighbourhood. She said she worried stores will be closed past the Jan. 11 date set by the provincial government. “We’ll see,” she said.

The longest lines in the Plateau were outside grocery stores, bakeries and liquor stores — businesses that have been deemed "essential" and will stay open during the strict lockdown.

“It’s been a bit slower this morning, but we had a lot of people in the three past days,” said Audrey Robitaille, the co-owner of plant store Alma Plantes, on Duluth Avenue. “I think that the rush before Christmas this year was more from the 21st to the 23rd."

Being ordered to close in January is better than being forced to close in the summer, Robitaille said, adding that she worried the closure will last all of January. “We expect the worst,” she said. “We hope it’s not going to be the case.”

Down the block, things were quiet at the Tete Dure barbershop, even though haircuts won't be allowed during the lockdown. Business has been busier over the past couple weeks, owner Patrick Haggart said. “It picked up from what it was, but not from what it was last year."

His uncle and business partner, Claude Haggart, said they were planning to close for a week starting on Christmas anyway. “We’re happy to have a break,” Haggart said, adding that he was tired of having to wear a mask all day.

Health authorities reported 2,349 new infections Thursday and 46 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, 13 of which occurred in the past 24 hours. The province said hospitalizations dropped by 15, to 1,052, and 146 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.

On Wednesday, the Montreal Children's Hospital said it was accepting adult patients in its intensive care unit to free up space at other hospitals dealing with COVID-19. The hospital said it was caring for 11 adult post-op patients and said other adults had been admitted to its pediatric intensive care unit.

Dr. Robert Barnes, associate director of professional services at the Children's, said the hospital is happy to help. “Our adult … colleagues are running full tilt, and relocating staff significantly, to care for so many sick adults," he said in a statement.

“The pandemic is not letting up. Just like during the first wave in the spring, we at the Children’s want to contribute to the cause as best we can.”

Quebec said it administered 3,942 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Wednesday. The province has reported a total of 185,872 COVID-19 infections and 7,913 deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2020.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press