With parents across the province scrambling to ensure their children are cared for when they head back to work after the holidays, François Legault is asking them to hang in there, because as far as he's concerned, there were no other options.
That was the gist of the premier's answer when asked how parents of elementary school students can manage a week of work with their children still at home.
As part of a slew of new COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines unveiled Tuesday, elementary school students will stay one extra week at home after the holiday break, until Jan. 11, with teachers expected to make online class material available.
"I can understand that it won't be easy for parents," said Legault during a morning news conference on Wednesday.
"Together, we all have to do this."
Allison Griffith, a Châteauguay resident, will soon have to keep tabs on her seven-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter while working from home — a challenge that she and many other parents already grappled with during the spring months.
"I'm not a teacher, you know? That's the hardest part," Griffith said. "I catch up [on my work] a lot of times when they're in bed, so after 8 o'clock, I get on my emails."
The premier insists the extra week will be crucial in terms of keeping COVID-19 at bay. He was also adamant that the closure will be in effect for a week only.
Griffith isn't sure a week will be enough, echoing concerns from experts a lockdown will need to be longer to have the desired effect.
"The thing is, if people still break the rules and meet other people, you're back in the same boat," Griffith said. "So, by the time they go back to school, they could still be carrying [the virus]."
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's public health director, has maintained schools aren't a major driver of transmission of the coronavirus, although schools account for 27 per cent of the 1,500 outbreaks currently being tracked by the province.
In Montreal, officials said Wednesday there were 130 outbreaks in schools out of a total of 424 across the city.
'We're surviving a pandemic here'
Kathleen Usher doesn't know if that extra week at home will be make a huge difference, but the teacher at Willingdon Elementary School in NDG is convinced that going back to class on Jan. 4, soon after Christmas and New Year's, would have been a disaster.
"I go to work with a hugely elevated sense of anxiety and responsibility. I don't want to catch [the virus], I don't want to give it to anybody," Usher said.
"I am really relieved that the government finally made this decision, rather than sending us all back on Jan. 4 to what I would only refer to as a super contagion."
Usher acknowledges the extra week will make things difficult for parents, and also teachers, pointing out that many of her colleagues have their own children to look after.
"But at the same time, we're surviving a pandemic here, or trying to," she said.
Usher said she thinks the stress of an extra week at home is worth the shot. "We have to hope that people don't break the rules."
WATCH | Specialist says shutdown a step in the right direction
'Even harder' decision looms for Quebec, expert says
Dr. David Buckeridge, an epidemiologist at McGill University, said Quebec is trying to strike a balance between curbing the spread of COVID-19 and other concerns, including the economy and the mental health of citizens.
He cautioned, however, that it can take time for such measures to bring down the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
As a result, with the end of the new restrictions less than a month away, Buckeridge said he would not be surprised if the government ends up extending at least some of them — if case numbers remain high.
"It's quite possible that we'll still see numbers that are not looking all that great on Jan. 11," he said. "And the government will have an even harder decision to make at that point."