Montreal restaurant owner Haykel Abdennadher opened for in-person dining Monday morning for the first time in more than one year, and before the anxiety of the big day could set in, his first patron was already sitting at a table.
"I can see him, he is here and he's having breakfast," Abdennahder, owner of Les Belle-Soeurs diner in the city's Le Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, said in a phone interview. "He is our neighbour, he was waiting for restaurants to open and he promised us that he would wait to be our first customer."
Quebec banned in-person dining on Oct. 1 across much of the province, including Montreal, as a second wave of novel coronavirus set in. The government only allowed restaurants to fully reopen in Montreal on Monday, when the region moved to the orange pandemic-alert level from the red level. Montreal's northern suburb Laval and several other smaller municipalities also moved to orange Monday, bringing the entire province out of the red level.
Abdennahder said he stayed closed last summer when the government allowed restaurants to temporarily reopen. He said the future at that point had seemed too uncertain.
"We didn't know where we were going, we did not know what kind of virus we were dealing with, everyone was panicking and I was afraid for the customers and everyone's health," Abdennahder said.
Like many other restaurants in the country, Abdennahder moved his menu to takeout and delivery only, and he said the change has been profitable. He questioned whether reopening to in-person dining will be as lucrative because current health orders stipulate that only two adults from different households can sit at a table — effectively cutting his revenues by about half.
"We'll take one day at a time," he said. "With the pandemic, we have learned to be patient and responsive. Do we have any plans for the next six months? I cannot say that this is our way of doing things right now, it is more about the short term because we are ready for any announcement from the government."
Under the orange level, gyms can also reopen and high school students can return to in-person learning full time instead of having online classes on alternating days.
Montrealer Patricia Miller, a client of Econofitness, one of Quebec's fitness club chains, says she waited impatiently for gyms to reopen.
"It represents so much happiness, self-care, good health, blowing some steam off," she said in an interview Monday.
Restrictions were eased further in six other Quebec regions and part of a seventh. That included the regions of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Côte-Nord and Nord du Québec, which moved to the province's green or lowest alert level. Indoor gatherings of 10 people from three households are permitted in green zones.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Christian Dubé said on Twitter Monday than only people 80 and older who want a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can start rebooking their second-dose appointments on a shorter timeline. Last week, the province shortened the interval between doses of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines to eight weeks from 16. Rebooking will open gradually on the government's online portal in descending order of age.
But Dubé said only Pfizer vaccines are available and the government was still "waiting for the vaccines for those who received Moderna or (Oxford-AstraZeneca). The interval will also be shortened for these people."
Liberal member Marie Montpetit, Opposition health critic, criticized Dubé's announcement Monday. "Why was it not clearly specified last (week) that the schedule for moving the second dose only applies for the moment for Pfizer?" Montpetit tweeted.
Quebec's Health Department was not immediately available for comment.
Earlier on Monday, Quebec reported 194 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one in the past 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by nine, to 265, and 58 people were in intensive care, a drop of three patients.
The province said 66,590 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered Sunday, for a total of 6,153,771; about 66 per cent of Quebecers have received at least one dose.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2021.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press