Quebec reports 15,845 COVID-19 cases, starts Sunday store closures

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MONTREAL — Labour groups and small business owners offered mixed reactions on Sunday as Quebec proceeded with the first of three planned closures of non-essential retail stores, saying they're grappling with both staffing crunches exacerbated by soaring COVID-19 case counts and the need to recoup previous pandemic-related losses.

The bulk of the province's stores were closed on Sunday, following through on an announcement made by Premier François Legault on Dec. 30. He said stores will be closed for the next three Sundays starting Jan. 2 — with the exception of pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations — in an effort to curb a new wave of COVID-19 driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant.

For Romy Belzile-Maguire, owner of Maguire Shoes in Montreal, the restriction helps address the fact that most employees are currently in isolation.

"We are a small team and we were starting to worry about the schedule," Belzile-Maguire said, explaining that 30 per cent of her staff can't currently come to work. "We were seeing the challenge for the upcoming weeks, so closing one day simplifies everything."

She said, however, that closing on Sundays will take a toll on her bottom line.

"We risk to go down with our sales during January," she said. "I stayed home a lot during the holidays to make sure I would still be standing at the end of it all."

Charles Milliard, president of the Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce, said in a statement this time of the year is crucial for businesses.

"The last thing businesses need during these difficult times is additional restrictions," Milliard said on Sunday, urging the provincial government to lift the measure as soon as possible.

"We must leave the choice to businesses to open or close at the time that makes the most sense for them, their employees and their customers."

Michelle Wasylyshen, a spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada, also called on the government to ensure the Sunday closures are both temporary and short-term.

"Retailers continue to face supply chain challenges along with labour shortages and so, as an industry we're still not back to pre-pandemic normality," Wasylyshen said.

She noted many stores won't be able to survive another extended round of restrictions.

Montrealer Charles Magri agrees, saying his family-owned business is still recovering economically from the pandemic's previous waves. Last winter, all non-essential retail stores across Quebec were closed for a few months following a strict lockdown imposed over the holidays.

Magri, who manages Bella Italia Florist in east end Montreal, takes comfort in the fact that the measure only applies to Sundays for now.

"Every dollar counts," Magri said. "When we are forced to stop, it's a relief but only because everybody is also shut down. We are OK closing on Sundays … as long as everybody else is."

He said closing one day puts less stress on sales than a complete lockdown.

"COVID-19 had a big affect on us, 100 per cent," Magri said. "There are fewer weddings. Everything is smaller. When we were completely shut down, it really impacted us."

The first of the planned closures came as Quebec reported 15,845 new COVID-19 cases, as well as 13 additional deaths linked to the virus.

The Health Department said the number of hospitalizations linked to the disease rose by 70 to 1,231.

It said 162 people are in intensive care, an increase of nine.

The Health Department said 54,065 COVID-19 tests were analyzed Friday and 30.9 per cent came back positive.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2022.

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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