MONTREAL — Quebec eased restrictions in the provincial capital area on Monday but increased them in the region east of Montreal, causing surprise and dismay among weary residents and business owners.
The Estrie region, composed largely of rolling hills dotted with small cities, moved to the red pandemic-alert level on Monday, under which in-person dining is prohibited, gyms are closed and places of worship are limited to 25 people.
Estrie reported 43 cases on Monday, down from 77 on Sunday and 86 on Saturday. Of the region's 512 active reported cases, more than two-thirds are in the Sherbrooke area and the Lac-Mégantic area, declared a red zone last week.
Dr. Alain Poirier, public health director for Estrie, said COVID-19 indicators had been slowly rising in different sub-regions for weeks while cases were going down elsewhere in the province. He said the new measures will take a few weeks to have an impact and the Health Department will want to see some stability before easing restrictions.
"Two things have me hoping for the best: the increase in vaccination rate and that the red-zone measures have helped all the other regions; you can see the decrease of cases happening while we weren't seeing that," Poirier said in an interview Monday.
Anik Beaudoin, owner of Restaurant Auguste and head of a merchants association for downtown Sherbrooke, said restaurant owners were shocked when they learned Saturday of the shift to red-zone rules.
Beaudoin said restaurants are safe when health orders are enforced.
“There was a wave of exasperation among restaurant owners, along with all the workers we lose each time," she said in an interview Monday. "We have to start at zero each time we reopen."
Beaudoin said she hopes the Quebec government presents a comprehensive reopening plan for restaurants across the province in the coming weeks. While restaurants in some regions had been able to open for dining, in Montreal, restaurant dining rooms have been shuttered since October.
Vicki-May Hamm, the mayor of Magog, Que., about 125 kilometres east of Montreal, was surprised with the quick turn to red-alert status.
"I was surprised, I didn't know ahead of time and I was even more surprised it was effective so rapidly because the local businesses didn't have time to sell their food," Hamm said.
"Our summer season starts around the 24th of June, so if we suffer for a month and then have a great summer season ahead of us, we know people will be travelling in Quebec, so we hope to be able to greet people safely."
And as Estrie was locking down on Monday, Quebec City and parts of Outaouais, in western Quebec, were opening up — slightly. Those areas joined Montreal in the red pandemic-alert level following several weeks of emergency measures, under which non-essential businesses and schools were closed and the nighttime curfew was 8 p.m.
On Monday, Quebec reported 662 new COVID-19 cases and six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said hospitalizations rose by four, to 543, and 123 people were in intensive care, a drop of one. Montreal led with 189 new infections.
Meanwhile, Quebec's minister responsible for seniors said Monday all long-term care residents across the province who had received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine had also received a booster shot.
"Good news for our seniors and another milestone in our collective fight against COVID-19," Marguerite Blais tweeted.
The province administered 61,768 COVID-19 vaccine doses on Sunday; 42.6 per cent of Quebecers have received at least one dose. The province said it expects 458,640 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week.
Quebecers age 30 and up are now eligible to book vaccine appointments as the province continues to expand its rollout. Health Minister Christian Dubé urged people to sign up before demand swells again when shots are made available to those 25 and older on Wednesday.
The provincial government says that by the end of the week, all Quebec adults who want to will be able to book a vaccine appointment.
Quebec has reported a total of 358,796 COVID-19 infections and 10,993 deaths linked to the virus; there are 8,143 active reported cases in the province.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press