MONTREAL — Quebec business owners said they were happy to be operating again Monday after COVID-19 restrictions were eased, but they hope the government doesn't force them to close again.
Isabelle Lachance said people don't recognize the logistical hurdles behind suspending and resuming operations. The owner of Oblic hair salon in Montreal's north end said the second closure of her business since the start of the pandemic has been difficult on her employees.
"Closing down has an effect on the anxiety of my team," she said. "Everyone is feeling a certain level of stress. There is (also) the financial aspect; all hair salons have lost money."
Across Quebec on Monday, non-essential retail stores, personal-care salons and museums reopened following a strict lockdown in force since Christmas. In six, less populated regions, including the Gaspe peninsula and the Saguenay area north of Quebec City, gyms and restaurant dining rooms were also permitted to reopen.
The easing of restriction came as Quebec reported its lowest daily infection count in weeks: 853 new cases of COVID-19. Officials also reported 17 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two that occurred in the past 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose by six, to 969, and 160 people were in intensive care, an increase of two.
Universities and junior colleges were also allowed to partially reopen on Monday. Classes across most of the province were permitted to resume at 50 per cent capacity, while in the six outlying regions, they could open fully as long as physical distancing was maintained.
Susie Huneault, owner of home decor boutique Casa Luca on Montreal's Fleury Street, in the north end of the city, said she was able to stay afloat during the lockdown through curbside pickups and online sales. She said it wasn't easy to switch from in-store sales to online.
"I hope that we will stop playing yo-yo," she said, referring to the repeated closures and openings during the pandemic. "If we open, I hope we stay open. We can't continue with this formula where we close temporarily."
However, the forced pause was not all negative, Huneault said. The time spent beefing up her online boutique was worth it. "That's something that's going to stay," she said of her growing online sales.
While the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has dropped in recent weeks, the government has said it's still too early to remove measures such as the nighttime, provincewide curfew.
In the six regions that moved into the lower, "orange" pandemic-alert level on Monday, the curfew's start was pushed back to 9:30 p.m. The rest of the province, including Montreal and Quebec City, remain at the "red" level and under an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Quebec is also allowing people across the province to participate in outdoor activities with people outside their households. Residents in most of the province will be able to meet outside with up to three people from other households, while in orange zones, the limit will be increased to eight.
Indoor gatherings are still prohibited, and bars remain closed. The government continues to require anyone who can work from home to do so.
Restaurants in orange zones will only be allowed to seat two adults and their children at each table, and reservations will be mandatory to facilitate contact tracing and to prevent people from outside the region from travelling for a dinner out.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.
Julien Arsenault, The Canadian Press