Quebec enacts restrictions on all gatherings, inside and out, as death toll rises

With 42 new cases confirmed and a total of 181 cases in the province, Quebec says with few exceptions, everyone must maintain a two-metre distance at all times.

With 42 new cases confirmed and a new total of 181 across the province, Quebec bans public gatherings

A man and woman walk along what is a normally a busy Place Jacques-Cartier in Montreal's Old town, Saturday, March 21, 2020, as COVID-19 cases rise in Canada and around the world. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
  • There are now 181 confirmed cases as of Saturday, with three more deaths, bringing total to four. One death presumed to be linked to the virus was not, test results determined.
  • As part of the extension of the public health emergency, Quebec has banned all indoor and outdoor gatherings.
  • Health Minister Danielle McCann now has the power to override union collective agreements for health care workers, including on vacation and overtime. 
  • Call 1-877-644-4545 if you think you have COVID-19 symptoms, instead of 811.
  • The Canada-U.S. border is closed to non-essential travel as of Saturday.
  • An infected Quebec City woman was arrested after refusing to remain in isolation.
  • The Sûreté du Québec will help Quebec enforce the Public Health Act.
  • The SAQ will now be closed on Sunday.
  • The Quebec government is asking people not to travel between regions of the province.
  • An Air Canada flight carrying Canadians will land in Montreal from Morocco.
  • Self-isolation directives have turned Montreal into a ghost town.

The Quebec government has banned all gatherings, further tightening restrictions on Quebecers as the number of known COVID-19 cases jumped by 42.

Premier François Legault reported three new deaths on Saturday. All four deaths in Quebec have been seniors, who were residents of the same seniors residence, Legault said.

"It's a reminder we face a very serious situation," Legault said. "Therefore, I ask you to strictly apply the social distancing instructions to limit the contagion."

The province said the number of confirmed cases now stands at 181, up from 139 yesterday, an increase of 42 cases. 

Of the confirmed cases, 19 people are in hospital and 10 of those are in intensive care.

On Friday, the Quebec government extended the public health emergency until March 29, and imposed further restrictions on public gatherings that officials had been strongly recommending to the public throughout the week.

The order-in-council extending the emergency officially bans gatherings, except:

  • At places of work not closed by government order, provided a two-metre distance is maintained

  • In a commercial or government space that has not been ordered closed, in order to obtain goods or services 

  • For transportation

  • Gatherings of the occupants of a residence, or when a service or support is being provided

In all of the cases above, a two-metre distance must be maintained between people as much as possible.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, flanked by Horacio Arruda, Quebec director of National Public Health, left, and Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann, holds a daily news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Saturday, Health Minister Danielle McCann issued a ministerial order that gives her the power to override health care workers' collective agreements.

The order gives local health boards power to cancel employee vacations, paid time off and union leave to add more staff to the field.

As testing increases, cases rise

Legault said expanded testing accounts for the increase in cases, and he expects to see the rise continue in the coming days as the wider reach of tests uncovers more cases.

Legault explained that while there are people waiting for results, there is not a waiting list for people to be tested.

"For the time being, the demand is lower than the capacity," he said.

Health Minister Danielle McCann said testing capacity in Montreal would be increased by "a lot, probably 2,000, at the beginning of the week."

Around 9,200 people have had negative test results, Legault said.

He said the screening has so far targeted people who travelled and are experiencing symptoms, people with symptoms who were in contact with recent travellers, and healthcare workers with symptoms.

The additional capacity will allow the province to begin wider testing.

"Eventually, and we are preparing for this, we can start testing people who have not travelled but have symptoms," Legault said.

"That's something where we'll need to have even more screening tests, so we're getting ourselves ready."

Passengers from Morocco are expected to arrive in Montreal on Saturday. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

People who don't isolate can be 'constrained'

Legault said the public health emergency, declared on March 14 and extended on Friday, allows for the enforcement of directives from Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda.

"This is to empower the police, if necessary, to enforce the directives of the director of public health," Legault said, including orders for people to self-isolate and to avoid gathering in groups.

The Sûreté du Québec says it's put in place a "special operation" to help combat the spread of COVID-19, and will assist the Health Ministry in enforcing the Public Health Act.

SQ spokesperson Ann Mathieu says officers are approaching people who may be in groups to let them know about the social distancing measures the government is asking people to take. 

"We are talking to those people to just tell them that for their own health and security, what is best is to respect the different measures that have been put in place," Mathieu said. 

She said any interaction with a specific individual will have to be mandated by the Health Ministry and that officers will be taking precautions, such as wearing gloves and masks. 

"As of now, it's clear we're going to constrain the people who do not respect the guidelines," Arruda said.

On Friday, Quebec City police arrested a woman who had tested positive for the coronavirus and left her house despite being under a quarantine order.

"The rights of an individual stop when impact to the community is high," Arruda said.

Still, Legault said the need for police enforcement is very low, and will be used sparingly.

"Except for very few exceptions, we decided that the good will is the best approach," Legault said. "And so far we'll continue to ask for the collaboration of all Quebecers."

When asked about the possibility of closing the Quebec border, Arruda said it is made complicated by regions such as Gatineau and the Outaouais, where the population often travels between Ontario and Quebec.

Repeated calls for social distancing

Arruda said the experience in other countries shows that social distancing is still the most effective weapon against the spread of the virus, and asked Quebecers to stay strong as they limit close contact with others.

Parties and family events are much higher risk than a quick trip into a store to buy necessities, he said.

"The risk is very low when it's a quick trip," he said. "It really is gatherings of people, together, closer, in families. That's where the risk is."

Health Minister Danielle McCann said the health-care system is also going into "social-distancing mode."

"As much as possible, we will be trying to do interventions at a distance," McCann said.

She said the system has "breathing room," with 4,600 beds earmarked for COVID-19 patients. She said emergency rooms are also operating under capacity, with an average of 66 per cent of emergency beds in use.


  • This story has been updated to reflect the fact that one of the five COVID-19 related deaths announced by the province Saturday turned out to have been unrelated to the disease caused by the virus.
    Mar 22, 2020 5:00 PM ET

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