Quebec won't ease COVID-19 restrictions despite Montreal public health recommendation

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Quebec has no plans to relax COVID-19 restrictions that have closed gyms, restaurants and other entertainment venues across much of the province, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday.

Legault made the comments after opposition parties demanded his government release a brief from Montreal's public health authority that called for many businesses to be allowed to reopen. The document, obtained by Radio-Canada, said maintaining the partial lockdown in the city risks causing serious health issues for the population.

“The risk of gatherings is too great at this moment,” Legault told a news conference in Quebec City, as health authorities reported 1,138 new cases of COVID-19 and 28 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus -- 10 of which occurred in the past 24 hours.

Legault said there is too much potential for COVID-19 transmission for him to allow gyms, restaurants and concert halls to reopen. With 261 new infections reported in Montreal on Thursday, Legault said “the battle is not won." 

The premier, however, said his government is reviewing whether to ease restrictions on private gatherings. Currently, only people who live alone are allowed to have guests, and they can only host one person at a time. All other indoor and outdoor gatherings among members of different households are banned.

On Thursday, Quebec solidaire called on the government to release the report and the Parti Quebecois said the province should follow the recommendations contained in it. Radio-Canada said the document included suggestions to reopen gyms, museums and libraries, among other businesses. 

A spokesperson for Montreal's health authority on Thursday confirmed the document exists, but said it wasn't public and refused to release it.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante told reporters Thursday that she's had discussions with the city's public health director about moving to a "new normal." She said she was open to adopting the agency's recommendations outlined in the brief.  

Legault said he's trying to find a balance between saving lives and maintaining quality of life. "It's not an exact science," he said. "There's no operations manual for how to manage a pandemic." 

Health Minister Christian Dube said Quebec is working to improve contact tracing. Part of the challenge, he explained, is the scale of the problem -- there are currently more than 1,400 active outbreaks in the province. For each outbreak, anywhere between two and 50 people have to be traced, he said.

Health authorities said hospitalizations decreased by one from the previous day, to 538, and 82 people were in intensive care, a rise of one. The province conducted 27,326 COVID-19 tests Nov. 3, the last day for which testing data is available.

Quebec has reported a total of 111,056 COVID-19 infections and 6,378 deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press