Quebec to inject cash in struggling culture sector as COVID-19 indicators improve

MONTREAL — Quebec announced a plan to relaunch its cultural sector Monday, as the province recorded the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths over a 24-hour period in almost two months.

Premier Francois Legault said his government will inject $250 million of new money to help the struggling cultural industry, which has seen plays, concerts and other shows cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Culture is the soul of Quebecers," Legault told a news conference in Montreal. "Quebecers adore their artists and they are missing them."

Legault's culture minister, Nathalie Roy said she was confident movie theatres and venues for live shows will be allowed to reopen before Quebec's Fete nationale, on June 24, with a limited number of spectators. But she didn't give details.

In the meantime, the government is making hundreds of millions of dollars available to fund projects in areas such as cinema, television, theatre and music. Artists will have to apply directly to the government for funding.

"For all the artists, if you have projects, it's time to bring them forward," Legault said.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 indicators in the province continued their downward trend Monday. Quebec recorded 20 new deaths — the lowest daily number of reported deaths since April 4, bringing the provincial total to 4,661.

There were 295 new cases of the disease — the lowest daily number since March 25, for a total of 51,354.

Additionally, the number of patients in hospital with the virus dropped by 13 to 1,185, and 16,597 patients are considered to have recovered.

There are still 152 long-term care homes in Montreal, however, that have at least one resident infected with the virus. Residents of long-term care homes in Quebec, who are among the most elderly, sick and vulnerable, account for roughly 65 per cent of all COVID-19 victims in the province.

Legault has committed to recruiting and training 10,000 people by mid-September to work as orderlies in Quebec's grossly understaffed long-term care homes. There are currently hundreds of soldiers and untrained workers acting as orderlies to fill the labour shortages.

He said "tomorrow or in the next few days" the government will open the registration process for interested candidates.

Many services and business across Quebec reopened Monday after several weeks of pandemic-induced shutdowns. Daycares are now open in the greater Montreal area and in the administrative region of Joliette, a town about 65 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Elementary schools and daycares outside the Montreal region have been open for three weeks, and since then, public health authorities have confirmed about 40 cases of COVID-19.

Still, Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of public health, told reporters Monday, "parents, children and teachers think it has been a success," regarding the reopening. Elementary schools in the greater Montreal area and high schools across Quebec will remain closed until at least September.

Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge announced earlier in the day that public health officials have approved a special activity for graduating elementary and high school students that respects COVID-19 safety measures.

Roberge said in a statement that many students had urged the province to act, wanting one last chance to see their friends and teachers. The ceremonies will allow for an event to mark the end of their school year, including official photos or a chance to sign yearbooks, Roberge said.

Courthouses across the province were permitted to reopen gradually, starting Monday, with limited seating capacity and Plexiglas barriers protecting clerks and judges.

Camping is now allowed outside the Montreal and Joliette regions, as are cottage rentals.

Shopping malls, nail salons and other personal care centres are also reopening, but only outside Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.

Giuseppe Valiante , The Canadian Press