At least 5 people with COVID-19 rode buses to Montreal's anti-health-measure protest, officials say

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People hug without masks as they take part in a demonstration against public health measures in Montreal on May 1. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
People hug without masks as they take part in a demonstration against public health measures in Montreal on May 1. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

After droves of maskless demonstrators marched through Montreal's east end to protest Quebec's public health restrictions on May 1, medical officials say those who bused to the event should get tested for COVID-19.

The health agency for the Chaudière-Appalaches region, just south of Quebec City, says there were five infected passengers among the 48 who rode two chartered buses to the Olympic Stadium.

In a statement released Friday, the agency "invites those concerned to go for screening and to isolate themselves if necessary in the event of symptoms."

The buses were reserved by organizers from the Beauce region, with a starting point in the Saint-Nicolas sector of Lévis, Que., the agency says.

Geneviève Dion, a spokesperson for the Chaudière-Appalaches health agency, said epidemiological investigators have had trouble obtaining information about people's movements and contacts to alert those who may have been exposed to the virus.

Several buses full of protesters arrived in Montreal on May 1 as people gathered to protest Quebec's public health measures.
Several buses full of protesters arrived in Montreal on May 1 as people gathered to protest Quebec's public health measures.(Radio-Canada)

Unable to get a clear picture of how many people may have been impacted, she said the health agency decided to make a public appeal — warning all who took the buses to get tested.

"We are not going to send them to prison," she said. "What we want is to obtain information to complete epidemiological investigations and protect the health of other people."

Protest forces temporary closure of vaccination site

At its peak in Montreal, the parade of protesters stretched for nearly two kilometres as demonstrators called for a return to normal life, with the economy fully open and gatherings allowed.

The protest forced Quebec public health to close the Olympic Stadium vaccination site and move afternoon appointments to another clinic. The march followed a loop around Maisonneuve Park and the Botanical Garden.

Demonstrations are still permitted in Quebec, but wearing a face covering is mandatory at all times. In Montreal, most protestors on Saturday ignored to rule.
Demonstrations are still permitted in Quebec, but wearing a face covering is mandatory at all times. In Montreal, most protestors on Saturday ignored to rule.(Andrej Ivanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Samuel Grenier, one of the protest's organizers with the group Québec debout (Quebec stands up), said some people at the event were against vaccinations and others were in favour of them.

Collectively, he said, demonstrators were opposed to the idea of "immunity passports," which would allow people to show they've been vaccinated to make it simpler to access services or travel.

While people came to the demonstration from across southern Quebec, the situation in Chaudière-Appalaches is particularly acute, with 5.79 per cent of tests coming back positive.

On Friday, there were 137 new cases of COVID-19 in the region, adding to the nearly 1,000 active cases there.

Across the river, the situation is improving in the Quebec City region with only 56 new cases on Friday and no new deaths.

Quebec City and the Chaudière-Appalaches are among Quebec regions that have been under a more severe lockdown than the rest of the province due to a boom in cases and hospitalizations.