COVID-19 in Quebec: With caution, Legault says we can 'see light at the end of the tunnel'

At Monday's briefing Premier François Legault said he is encouraged by the modest growth in the number of hospitalizations. There are eight more people in hospital than yesterday — 533, including 164 in intensive care.

Labour Minister Jean Boulet announces new $100M fund to retrain employees during pandemic

Paramedics arrive with a patient at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal. The premier said Monday the increase in hospitalizations is cause for cautious optimism. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)
  • Quebec has 8,580 cases and 121 deaths attributable to COVID-19. There are 533 people in hospital, including 164 in intensive care.
  • The shutdown of non-essential economic activity in Quebec has been extended to May 4.
  • Quebec police handed out hundreds of tickets over the weekend to enforce social distancing rules.
  • Registration is now open for emergency federal aid. Canadians born in January, February and March can apply online today.

Quebec Premier François Legault says the modest increase in the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 is good news, even though the total of number of cases climbed to 8,580 Monday.

The death toll from COVID-19 in Quebec climbed to 121, up from 94 a day earlier.

But the number of hospitalizations, which many experts say is the most accurate measure of the virus's spread, increased by only eight, for a total of 533. The number of patients in intensive care went up by 10, to 164. 

At Monday's briefing, Legault said it appears the social-distancing measures put in place last month are working. 

But he stressed the next month will be crucial in containing the outbreak.

"We may see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we must continue to do everything we can to win the battle against the virus," Legault said.

He said if the trend toward a slower increase in the number of hospitalizations continues for several days, it will be a positive sign.

The province is set to release projection models Tuesday that will give an idea of various scenarios.

Health experts in Ontario revealed last Friday they expect COVID-19 could kill 3,000 to 15,000 people in that province over the course of the pandemic, the ramifications of which could last as long as two years.

Quebec public health director Horacio Arruda said he is still working with staff to prepare the province's projections. He stressed the margin of error will be wide, given all the unknown elements.

"It will be a challenge," he said. "But I think it's normal that people want to have information."

$100M to train Quebecers now

Quebec Minister of Labour Jean Boulet announced Monday afternoon that the government has earmarked $100 million to cover the cost of training employees in new skills.

The aim, he said, is to have an even stronger workforce once the economy is restarted.

Boulet said the province will cover as much as 100 per cent of employee salaries while those workers improve their skills — be that worker a chef learning a new culinary technique or a window-installer learning to do that job more efficiently.

Independent businesses of all sizes are eligible for up to $100,000 in subsidies, with the goal of retaining employees and improving their skills and abilities.

This funding is complementary to other economic programs introduced during the pandemic, such as the program to pay essential workers up to $100 extra per week during the economic shutdown, Boulet said.

Quebec Minister of Labour Jean Boulet said businesses can start training employees today and get paid retroactively for the salary expense. (Radio-Canada)

"We are living in a knowledge-based economy, and what is important is to improve the skills of our workforce," he said, encouraging business owners to get started immediately. He said the province will pay the subsidies retroactively, as needed.

All training must respect public-health guidelines during the pandemic, Boulet said. 

Though it is expected that most training will be done online, Boulet said, in-person training may be possible in exceptional circumstances

Quebec seeks paramedics

With the outbreak taking its toll on front-line workers, the province is asking teachers in paramedic programs in four colleges to bolster that workforce, allowing some students to join the effort as well.

The Education Ministry sent a letter to the four colleges around Montreal and Laval — two areas hardest-hit by the virus — asking teachers to go back to work as paramedics.

The Health Ministry is allowing third-year students to lend a hand, as well.

Letters were sent to John Abbott College, Collège Ahuntsic, Cégep de Saint-Hyacinthe and Collège Ellis in Drummondville.

New online material

As universities and colleges grapple with how to administer exams remotely, younger students — with three months left in the school year — are trying to pick up where they left off, online.

For students in elementary and high school, the government is rolling out video capsules in collaboration with Télé-Québec, to be broadcast online and on television starting next week. 

But Quebec CEGEP students are worried that measures to fight the novel coronavirus may make it impossible for them to complete their winter session.

Some are calling on the semester to be cancelled as the province announced last week that students and staff would not be able to retrieve their materials from school buildings.

JGH maternity ward restrictions criticized

More than 50 law professors have added their voices to those opposing a ban on all visitors to the maternity ward of the Jewish General Hospital.

In a letter published Monday in Le Devoir, the professors write that "the health of women and of unborn children should not be overlooked" amid the pandemic.

As part of its measures to stop COVID-19, the McGill University-affiliated hospital extended its restrictions Friday to include a prohibition on all visitors to the delivery room and maternity ward — including a mother-to-be's partner or designated support person. 

The hospital made the decision, which goes further than that imposed by all other hospitals and birthing centres in Quebec, after an infected partner entered the hospital's maternity ward.

Legault said Monday the move was "fair and reasonable" under the circumstances, and pregnant women are welcome to transfer to another hospital, if possible.

More cases in Nunavik

The remote northern Quebec region of Nunavik now has five confirmed cases of COVID-19. Three new cases announced Sunday evening are in the village of Puvirnituq.

Travel between communities in the region has been restricted to essential personnel since Friday, but some fear that restriction may have come down too late.

There are now four confirmed cases in Eeyou Istchee, the territory of the James Bay Crees. 

Travel between most of Quebec's regions is now restricted. On Saturday, the government announced two more restricted areas: Charlevoix and Rouyn-Noranda.


Benjamin Shingler is a reporter with CBC's investigative unit in Montreal. He previously worked at The Canadian Press, Al Jazeera America and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Email story ideas to

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