'We're all in this together,' says François Legault, as Quebec heads into 3-week shutdown
People are stressed and there's potential for 'social chaos,' but drastic measures are needed, says premier
- Quebec currently has 1,013 confirmed cases and four deaths attributable to COVID-19; 67 people are in hospital, 31 of those in intensive care. More than 500 intensive-care beds are available.
- As of midnight Tuesday, all face-to-face business and commercial activity in the province will cease until April 13. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, SAQ and SQDC and other essential services will remain open. See the full list here.
- Montreal will donate more than $1.1 million to charitable organizations. Federal assistance cheques are still two weeks away, according to Premier François Legault.
- Centraide is encouraging donations at Centraide-mtl.org or via texting 80-100 with the message "COVID."
- Two paramedics in the Lanaudière region and two Montreal firefighters have tested positive for the virus.
- More than 2,000 people were tested the first day that a walk-in testing centre opened in downtown Montreal. In order to be tested there you must meet certain criteria, listed here.
Premier François Legault said measures are in place to prevent social chaos as economic activity in the province is set to grind to a halt tonight — part of an ambitious effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The provincial government ordered yesterday a stop to all non-essential, face-to-face business until April 13. A list of essential services that can remain open is posted on the government's website. It includes grocery stores and pharmacies.
Legault said Tuesday he understands this period will be stressful for Quebecers, noting that business owners face uncertain futures and thousands of workers are staring at reduced incomes as they are forced to stay home.
Asked about the necessity of keeping open the liquor commission (SAQ) outlets and marijuana dispensaries (SQDC) during the shutdown, he said the measure is meant to prevent hordes of people from rushing to buy alcohol at grocery stores.
Along with the temporary closure of non-essential activity in Quebec, the province has also ordered people to stop gathering in groups, either inside or outside.
And people over 70 years old — roughly 12 per cent of greater Montreal's population — have been asked to stay indoors as much as possible.
Asked if he was concerned that the situation might increase social tensions, Legault replied: "Yes. That's why for the moment, and for the foreseeable future, we've asked the police to inform [the public of the public health directives]. It's important that there is no chaos."
Several police forces in the province received a flood of phone calls over the weekend from citizens reporting gatherings that appeared to violate those directives.
A Montreal police spokesperson said officers are explaining the new public health measures to people who may be unaware of them. The goal is to inform the public, not arrest them, said Insp. André Durocher.
More help available
Meanwhile, efforts are multiplying to help Quebecers unable to make ends meet because of the impact of the pandemic.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced the city will donate more than $1.1 million to an emergency fund for community organizations. She invited citizens to make their own donations to Centraide, either online or by texting 80-100.
Food banks, organizations that provide psychological services and agencies assisting seniors living in isolation will benefit from the funds raised.
Legault said it will be another two weeks before federal financial assistance is available for workers laid off and at home due to the outbreak. But he said the province is looking at ways of getting income support out sooner.
"I know we're going through difficult times. I know it's stressful — for businesses, for workers, for the elderly," Legault said at his daily news conference in Quebec City.
"We have to remember that all this is temporary. We are all in this together."
Answering questions about why SAQ outlets were still open, Legault suggested that "sometimes a glass of wine may help" with the stress.
Higher numbers, more testing
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec rose again dramatically on Tuesday, from 628 on Monday to 1,013.
There are 67 people in hospital, an increase of 22 over the previous day's figures. Of those, 31 patients are receiving intensive care, an increase of 11.
Quebec has 6,000 hospital beds available to treat COVID-19 patients, and officials remain confident the health care system can handle the increased demand for the time being. The province also has a stock of 3,000 ventilators, and Legault confirmed in a conference call, Canada's first ministers have discussed sharing equipment and medical resources, if need be.
While Legault doesn't believe the federal government needs to invoke emergency powers to deal with the outbreak, he did say Ottawa needs to secure access to more medical supplies.
The recent increase in Quebec cases of COVID-19 is due, in part, to expanded testing, according to both public health officials and medical experts.
And the figure is likely to continue to rise as more testing is conducted. A new open-air, walk-in facility in downtown Montreal tested 2,172 on Monday, the first day it was open.
Officials also pointed out that because of the incubation period of the disease, there is an almost two-week lag between infection and test results.
The cases being reported this week reflect Quebecers who had left the country for spring vacation and likely caught the coronavirus abroad, said the province's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda.
While Arruda reiterated that Quebec is now likely witnessing community transmission of COVID-19, he said the number of cases is low enough for one each one to be investigated individually, in an effort to find the source of the infection.
In Montreal, however, public health officials say they have detected at least 300 cases since Monday for which there is no known source of infection, indicating widespread community transmission with the city.
There is at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 in every region of Quebec, including the North Shore and the Magdalen Islands. They reported their first cases on Tuesday.
First responders falling ill
There are also growing reports of first responders falling ill with the disease.
In the Lanaudière region of Quebec, 18 paramedics are currently in isolation, after two of their colleagues tested positive.
Though it's not clear where they contracted the virus, ambulance services are pleading with members of the public to be transparent when they call 911 for help.
"When we ask you questions about whether or not you've travelled or if you've been in contact with people with symptoms, it's extremely important to tell us," said Claude Lemay, operations director for the ambulance service HRH Services Préhospitalier.
"Otherwise we're exposing health workers — who are essential — for no good reason."
Two Montreal firefighters have also tested positive for the virus, the Montreal firefighters' association confirmed Tuesday.
In addition to those two, another 16 firefighters are off work because they were in contact with the confirmed cases.
With files from Julia Page, Claire Loewen and CBC Montreal staff