(Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Quebec's decision to open cinemas and indoor sports complexes, while keeping theatres and gyms closed, is being questioned by public health experts and other business owners — including some who own cinemas.
Experts say now is not the time to begin relaxing restrictions, with a third wave a possible consequence.
And people in the theatre industry, as well as gym and spa owners, are confused by the government's logic that means their businesses must remain closed while others can open up.
However, with curfews still in place — 8.p.m in red zones, 9:30 p.m. in orange zones — and other restrictions still in effect, even movie theatre owners aren't sure if it will be worth it to reopen on Feb. 26.
"I can't be losing money [while operating]," said Sylvain Gilbert, general manager of Cinéma Lido and Cinéma Des Chutes in Lévis, Que.
He says getting everything ready in 10 days will be a challenge. And with masks required to be worn at all times, Gilbert says he's losing out on the roughly 80 per cent of his profits that come from the sale of popcorn and other snacks.
The inability to sell popcorn means Cinémas Guzzo movie theatres will likely stay closed, said Vincenzo Guzzo, the president and CEO.
On Wednesday afternoon, a group representing several cinemas in the province, including the Guzzo chain, asked the government to consider relaxing the operating rules, or compensate the owners for their losses.
A spokesperson for Cineplex Entertainment, which operates cinemas across the province, said Wednesday they are still studying Quebec's announcement.
Preventing third wave should be priority, experts say
By reopening cinemas, indoor pools and rinks, Quebec officials are looking to relieve some of the stress that has come with the government-enforced lockdown, while at the same time giving parents a break from struggling to entertain their kids during school break.
However, reopening cinemas, as COVID-19 variants are starting to spread is an unnecessary risk, according to Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"These variants are not a joke," she said. "The likelihood of a third wave happening very much depends on whether we act aggressively and very, very strongly in the initial stage which is where we are right now."
Indoor gatherings of any kind, including in cinemas, could undo much of the progress that's been made in recent weeks, Baral said, with daily COVID-19 case totals dipping below 1,000.
Even if the daily data have improved, Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital, says the situation is still worrisome, and the province needs to focus on getting transmissions as low as possible.
"Overall, a third wave, especially of a really transmissible variant, is a much bigger overall burden and cost to our health-care system, to our economy, to our mental health, than getting it under control once and for all," Oughton told CBC Montreal's Daybreak host Sean Henry.
On Tuesday, the premier said police across Quebec will be watching for illegal gatherings in private homes, hotels and cottages during March break, in hopes of limiting outbreaks.
Waiting game continues
While the government is allowing some businesses to open, plenty of others remain closed and that has left many feeling left out in the cold.
Eda Holmes, the artistic and executive director of the Centaur Theatre, said the reopening strategy is "frankly, really perplexing."
"If people can sit in a room in a movie theatre, that's exactly what they do when they come to the theatre," she said. "We have all the things in place to welcome them safely."
And Rahul Varma, artistic director of Teesri Duniya Theatre, argued that while films can be watched on any screen, including TVs at home, the live theatre experience can't be replicated.
"It doesn't make sense that cinema can be done safely and theatre can't," he said.
Spa and gym owners are also left scratching their heads at the decision.
"Last summer, there was no outbreak of COVID-19 in our facilities, and we welcomed hundreds of thousands of people," said Véronique Lemieux, president of the Association Québécoise des spas in a statement Tuesday..
Gabriel Hardy, Quebec head of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, questions the government's motivation for keeping gyms closed.
He said the benefits of keeping fit "largely outweigh the risks when they are supervised correctly."