Quebec ramps up fight against COVID-19: Large indoor events banned, Montreal shuts pools and rinks

Quebec Premier François Legault called the outbreak of the novel coronavirus an "emergency" situation that will require a huge effort from Quebecers for the next several weeks.

Quebec premier says travellers or anyone with flu-like symptoms should stay home

The old Hôtel-Dieu Hospital's emergency room is now a screening clinic for COVID-19. If you think you are infected, call 811 and do not go to the clinic unless you are told to. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)
  • The Quebec government is banning all indoor events with more than 250 people.
  • People coming from outside the country should self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of where they came from. This is mandatory for public sector employees and all workers in the health and education systems (public and private).
  • Many Quebec schools are closing Friday while adhering to provincial recommendations such as cancelling large events and staggering lunch hours.
  • Anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms should also stay home for 14 days.
  • Montreal is closing arenas, libraries, pools and sports centres as well as the Planetarium and the Botanical Gardens. Public transit will continue operating. 
  • Seventeen cases have been confirmed, with more than 130 still under investigation. Two patients are currently in hospital.
  • Click here for a summary of what you should know about COVID-19.

Social life is being dramatically curtailed across Quebec as authorities ban large gatherings and recreational activities in an "aggressive" effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Montreal announced that starting Friday it will close all arenas, libraries, pools and sports centres until further notice.

That followed an order from Premier François Legault prohibiting indoor events of more than 250 people, which applies everywhere from concert halls to bars and restaurants.

Legault also urged wide swaths of the population to stay home if possible. He called the outbreak of the novel coronavirus an "emergency" situation that will require a huge effort from Quebecers over the next several weeks.

At a news conference Thursday in Quebec City, the premier outlined a series of new regulations and recommendations to help the province's fight against COVID-19.

Quebec Premier François Legault, flanked by the province's Public Health Director Horacio Arruda and Health Minister Danielle McCann, held a news conference Thursday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

"We need to delay the contagion," Legault said. "The next few weeks will be critical, and our goal is to slow the propagation of the virus as much as possible."

Invoking powers contained in the Public Health Act, Legault said all health and education workers who have travelled outside the country are required to isolate themselves for 14 days.

All public sector workers are also required to self-quarantine if they had travelled abroad as of Thursday, and the general public is encouraged to do the same.

The government is asking anyone who has traveled outside the country to voluntarily isolate themselves for two weeks. The same recommendation holds for anyone who exhibits flu-like symptoms.

Work from home if possible, Legault says

Legault encouraged as many people as possible to work from home, and for businesses to alter work hours to minimize passengers using public transit during rush hour.

Public sector employees who isolate themselves will be paid, and Legault said his government will announce measures in the coming days to offer the same financial support in the private sector.

The province will also be posting security guards outside long-term care homes (CHSLDs) to limit entry and ensure those who do go inside wash their hands beforehand.

"I know I'm asking a lot," Legault said. "But if we want to succeed, I need the help of all Quebecers — not to travel anywhere, not to go to a show, a hockey game. It's a major change, but this is very critical."

'I know I'm asking a lot': Quebec premier says situation is critical

3 years ago
Duration 0:42
Hoping to control the spread of COVID-19, François Legault asks Quebecers to stay home if they've travelled, and bans indoor events with more than 250 people.

Schools close Friday

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said schools do not need to close at this time.

Regardless, many school boards and several universities are shutting down Friday so administrations can respond to the Quebec government's recommended response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legault said all schools in Quebec, including CEGEPs and universities, should avoid situations in which more than 250 people are together in a room at the same time, such as a lecture or meal-time in a cafeteria.

There are currently 17 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec — four of which were confirmed late Thursday. Two people are in hospital. 

Quebec's public health director, Horacio Arruda, said there have been no instances of local transmission/

Keith Hynes reads the biography of his hero Montreal Canadiens Jean Beliveau outside the Bell Centre in Montreal on Thursday. The NHL has suspended the 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Arruda, who took part in Thursday's news conference alongside Legault, said he wasn't ruling out requesting more drastic measures if the number of cases continues to increase.

Quebec's approach, he said, was based on guidelines from the World Health Organization and medical experts who studied how the virus originally spread in China. 

"It's this very aggressive approach at the start that will diminish the introduction [of the virus] and stagger its spread," Arruda said.

Health Minister Danielle McCann said the province's health system is handling the situation well. But 811, the public health information line also known as Info-Santé, continued to operate inconsistently on Thursday.

Several people reported having to wait around two hours to speak with a nurse. Authorities require people to call the line before seeking tests for COVID-19.

Cancellations across the province

Across the province on Thursday, numerous institutions and events announced postponements, cancellations and closures.

The NHL and MLS have suspended their seasons. Weekend masses at Catholic church have been cancelled. Montreal's St. Patrick's Day parade, held annually since 1824, was also suspended. Some private schools said they would close Friday.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante described the measures the city is taking as "major" but necessary for the public good.

Along with closing several municipal facilities, Plante ordered any city employee who has traveled anywhere to undergo quarantine.

Plante also stressed that Montreal's public transit system will remain operational, though she encouraged users to wash their hands.

"Our public transit system is an essential element to get us through this situation," she said, noting that it will help heath-care professionals get to work.

"It's not going to be an easy month because people are going to be worried but we're with them."

Health workers demonstrate how to put on protective clothing during a tour of a COVID-19 evaluation clinic in Montreal earlier this week. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The measures Legault announced on Thursday marked a dramatic escalation in tone from the Quebec government.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Eric Girard tabled a budget that made scant mention of the virus and forecast it would have little impact on the economy.

But speaking to reporters on Thursday, Legault said the effects of outbreak will be severe and could last several months. 

He also took the unusual step of meeting with opposition leaders early Thursday morning to answer their questions and brief them on the province's response.

After the meeting, the leaders of the Quebec Liberal Party, Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois all said they would collaborate with the government.

"We're all going to work together so Quebec can get through this obviously difficult period," interim Liberal leader Pierre Arcand said.


    Here's what you need to know about preparing for COVID-19:

    If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, call 1-877-644-4545 before heading to a hospital or a clinic to seek testing. Do not call 811 as that service is receiving more calls than it can handle.

    The Quebec government is also posting up-to-date information on this web site.

    With files from Franca Georgia Mignacca, Jaela Bernstien and Isaac Olson