MONTREAL — For the first time since the end of September, Montrealers were able to eat at restaurants — though only outside — as Quebec took the first steps in its pandemic reopening plan Friday.
In the city's trendy Plateau neighbourhood, restaurant patios filled up during the lunch hour. Julien Leclerc, a customer at Taverne St-Sacrement on Mont-Royal Avenue, said he planned to stay out into the evening.
"I missed the human touch, being close to someone, talking to them," he said in an early afternoon interview. "For me to be able to do that again, I don’t have the words. I am thrilled to be around people again."
Despite temperatures in the low teens, Lauriane Dubois, the manager of the Pizzédélic restaurant on Mont-Royal Avenue, said she expected customers would still be willing to sit outside.
"Even though, because of the weather, some people don’t think it’s going to be busy, I think people are going to come with their sleeping bag and snowsuit if they can! We will have people until very late tonight, I’m sure," she said. "People just want to be sat down and served and get back to their old habits."
In Montreal, and other regions under Quebec's two highest alert levels, the patio reopening comes with strict rules. Tables will be limited to occupants of a single residence, or two adults with their minor children and alcohol can only be served with meals.
Quebec's curfew — which had been set at 9:30 p.m. — was also lifted Friday. A curfew has been in effect in most of the province since Jan. 9. Gatherings of up to eight people on private property are also now permitted and large venues can have up to 2,500 people, meaning there will be fans at Saturday's playoff hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Quebec's public health institute said earlier on Friday that the province is likely to avoid another wave of novel coronavirus if people follow health orders.
"What we see from the models is that the reopening plan could work well, but as long as the public follows the speed of the reopening plan and doesn't get ahead of what's been put on the table," Jocelyne Sauvé, vice-president for scientific affairs at the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, told reporters.
Models released by the institute project a gradual drop in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in all parts of the province over the rest of the spring and summer, if people follow the rules closely.
If the rules aren't followed, Marc Brisson, a professor at Université Laval who does modelling for the public health institute, said the number of cases could begin to rise again in June — particularly among children and adults not yet vaccinated.
The models estimate that the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the fall will depend on vaccination rates. If 89 per cent of people over 12 are fully vaccinated, there would be a minimal rise in new cases and hospitalizations when schools reopen.
But if just 71 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated by the fall, and assuming the number of daily contacts between people are at pre-pandemic levels, then Quebec could be reporting 1,000 new cases a day by October, followed by dozens of new hospitalizations.
"It's very important to continue to follow the public health measures as we get out of lockdown and to have the highest vaccination coverage possible," Brisson said. "These two elements will have a big impact on how our summer and September will look."
Quebec has been the only province to impose a curfew, and the province's Public Security Department said Friday that between Jan. 9 and May 23, police forces in the province issued 20,958 tickets for curfew violations. Fines started at $1,000 plus $550 in additional fees, which would mean penalties potentially totalling more than $30 million.
Quebec reported 419 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and four more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one within the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by nine, to 385, and 91 people were in intensive care, a drop of five.
The province says it administered 101,094 doses of vaccine Thursday, for a total of 5,306,336; about 58 per cent of Quebecers have received at least one dose.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin and Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press