Quebec will allow some retail stores and businesses to reopen in the Greater Montreal area on May 25 as the province recorded its lowest number of deaths attributable to the novel coronavirus pandemic in over a month.
Premier François Legault confirmed the move on Monday, saying the public health conditions had been met for the government to move forward with its plan after the original opening date had to be pushed back.
“I am really happy to announce today that we have the green light to open retail businesses in the Montreal region in one week as planned,” he said.
Daycares in Montreal will also be permitted to open on June 1, but Legault said it will be a gradual process and that facilities will not be operating at full capacity at the beginning.
“Parents need to know that there’s not enough places for every child,” he said.
Quebec saw 34 new deaths attributable to COVID-19 on Monday — the province’s lowest rise in deaths since mid-April, according to Legault. The death toll is at 3,596.
There are 43,627 cases as of Monday, an increase of 707 from the previous day.
Despite easing restrictions in Greater Montreal, Legault said it is important for people to abide by social-distancing measures. He also encouraged the public to wear a mask when they leave the house to limit the spread of COVID-19, even though it’s not obligatory.
“I also want to ask Quebecers to be very careful,” said Legault. “If we don’t want to go back and put the brakes on the reopening, we need to follow public health’s instructions.”
In Quebec, more police checkpoints were also lifted on Monday. Traffic controls came to an end in Gatineau, Bas-Saint-Laurent, the Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Charlevoix.
However, public health authorities are still asking people to only travel from one region to another if it is necessary.
Health-care system sees more workers come back, surgeries resume
After pleading for thousands health-care workers who are not in quarantine to return to work, Legault said 608 of them did so over the weekend.
In April, he said workers were absent either because they are sick, vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 or scared to go to work.
“It’s a reinforcement that’s very welcome and it will help employees who are already on site,” he said on Monday.
Health Minister Danielle McCann also announced on Monday that non-urgent surgeries that were put on hold during the pandemic will be allowed to gradually resume.
The recovery will be slower in Montreal, which remains the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Canada. Citing high hospitalization rates, McCann said surgical procedures will resume slowly in that region but remained hopeful.
“The situation will change,” she said. “We can already see there that hospitalizations are decreasing, very slowly, but decreasing.”
About 68,000 procedures were postponed due to the pandemic, according to McCann.
Quebec looks at next steps of reopening
The provincial government and public health authorities are looking at the next phases of their recovery plan.
Legault said on Monday it was important to focus on reopening the business and education sectors, but that now it is time to start considering the resumption of other services such as restaurants and sports.
“There are many, many questions but in the next few days, we will be at the next steps,” he said.
Legault said he will also look at the tourism sector but it could be a while before people are able to travel within the province.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s top doctor, said that while it is clear that authorities will eventually have to let people have more social contact with their loved ones, he stressed the important of social-distancing measures.
“I think the two metres must be the social norm,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher and the Canadian Press
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