COVID-19 in Quebec: Travel restrictions to be lifted in most regions over month of May
‘Discipline will be key,’ says deputy premier, asking Quebecers to avoid non-essential travel
- Quebec has 26,594 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,761 people have died. That's an increase of 79 deaths.
- There are 1,648 people in hospital, including 222 in intensive care. Here's a guide to the numbers.
- Retail stores that have an outdoor entrance will be allowed to reopen on May 4, except for the Montreal area, where that date is May 11.
- Manufacturers and construction sites reopening May 11 across the province.
- Children will be able to go to daycare and elementary school as of May 11 in most of the province, and a week later in the greater Montreal region.
- Montreal says masks should become norm for people venturing out in public.
Quebec continued Wednesday to announce plans to ease confinement measures over the coming weeks, even though another 79 people in the province have died of COVID-19, and public health officials in Montreal are struggling to contain an outbreak in one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods.
Deputy premier Geneviève Guilbault, who replaced Premier François Legault at Wednesday's news conference, said authorities will gradually remove restrictions on travel within the province, beginning May 4.
She said it was the "logical next step" following the release, on Monday, of a timetable to reopen elementary schools and daycares, and Tuesday's announcement of staggered dates for reopening several sectors of the economy.
The roadblocks were set up several weeks ago as part of the effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. They will be removed in three phases.
- May 4: Laurentians, Lanaudière, Chaudière-Appalaches and Rouyn-Noranda.
- May 11: Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, La Tuque and Outaouais (excluding Gatineau).
- May 18: Lower Saint-Lawrence, Gaspé, Magdalen Islands, North Shore and Charlevoix.
Travel restrictions will remain in place for several other regions, including the city of Gatineau, the Lower North Shore and all of northern Quebec, including James Bay and Nunavik.
Guilbault lauded Quebecers for having followed public health directives to date, saying it's given the government some leeway to relax certain confinement measures.
"All this possible thanks to our discipline," Guilbault said.
She cautioned, however, that the roadblocks would return if the public health situation deteriorates.
"Discipline will be the key," she said.
Guilbault also said Quebecers still shouldn't travel around the province unless it's necessary. While that means people will be able to visit their cottages, they should not stop to do groceries on the way or invite guests.
CHSLD deaths declining, Arruda says
Guilbault's presence at Wednesday's news conference was a further sign the government is trying to move into a new phase of crisis management.
Government sources told Radio-Canada that going forward, Legault will reduce his participation in the daily briefings.
This week's announcements have shifted the focus away from the continuing crisis in long-term care homes, dozens of which have been beset by coronavirus outbreaks and crippling staff shortages.
There were more than 10,000 health-care workers absent on Tuesday alone, according to figures provided by the Health Ministry.
Another 400 soldiers joined 125 troops already deployed in Quebec. They've been assigned to 15 long-term care homes where the staffing situation remains critical.
Earlier this week, Legault said the province had recruited enough additional personnel to fill shifts. On Wednesday, Health Minister Danielle McCann said she expected to see a significant improvement in the staffing situation next week.
In the meantime, however, the virus continues to spread within the long-term care network. There are now 102 nursing homes where the government considers the situation critical. As of Wednesday, nearly 6,172 residents in long-term care are known to have had COVID-19.
Quebec Public Health Director Horacio Arruda said Wednesday there were early indications that the number of deaths in the long-term care network is starting to decline.
"I think, by the end of the week, probably, we will confirm that the number of deaths per day is going down significantly," he said.
The situation in Montreal
The decision to push forward with easing some confinement measures also comes amid persistent questions about the situation in the epicentre of the outbreak, Montreal.
Montreal continues to far outpace other Quebec regions in the number of cases of the virus, pegged Wednesday at 12,811 of 26,594, as well as in the number of deaths caused by it — 1,078 of 1,761.
Within the city, the situation is particularly alarming in the Montréal-Nord borough, which now accounts for 10 per cent of Montreal's cases.
Arruda said epidemiological investigations are underway but speculated that long-term care workers who live in the neighborhood may have circulated the disease after they caught it while at work.
To date, Quebec's opposition parties have largely been supportive of the government's handling of the crisis.
However, the Opposition Liberals are now questioning whether Montreal is ready for deconfinement, given that rates of transmission remain high, and many of the city's hospitals are filling up again.
"The situation is far from being under control," interim Liberal leader Pierre Arcand said in a statement.
Two Montreal hospitals are currently grappling with serious outbreaks.
On Tuesday, Radio-Canada revealed that there are outbreaks in eight out of 12 wards at Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital in eastern Montreal.
Last week, Montreal's Sacré-Coeur hospital had to transfer out orthopedic and geriatric patients due to an outbreak. Some 120 patients there caught COVID-19. At least two died.
Arruda acknowledged that if the situation in Montreal's hospitals worsened, it could force the government to delay its plans to reopen schools and businesses.
Getting ready for deconfinement
According to the plans announced this week, most elementary schools and daycares outside greater Montreal will reopen by May 11.
Manufacturers, construction sites and retail stores with outdoor entrances will be allowed to restart on May 4 in most regions of the province and on May 11 in the greater Montreal region.
In the Montreal area, the date for elementary schools and daycares to reopen is a little over a week later, May 19.
The island of Montreal's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, said Tuesday that "face-coverings must become a social norm," to prevent asymptomatic spread of the virus.
The aim is to allow people to return to "a more or less normal life" while preventing a second wave of COVID-19, Drouin said.
But Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said while some parts of public life will be restarting, people still need to respect distancing measures and gatherings are still banned.
"We are talking about deconfinement of certain sectors, not of the population at large," she said at a briefing Tuesday.
Masks won't be mandatory, Plante said, because the city understands not everyone has the means or resources to buy or make them.
The city has ordered 50,000 reusable face-coverings to be distributed to groups representing vulnerable populations throughout the city.
"We don't want anyone left behind," Plante said.
With files from Isaac Olson