Quebec restricting travel to 'vulnerable regions' as it works to contain COVID-19

The Quebec government is enacting restrictions on free movement in certain parts of the province to slow the spread of COVID-19. Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault said the measure is necessary to protect vulnerable populations in those regions, where many are elderly or isolated from accessible health care.

Police checkpoints will verify travellers to 8 regions are going for essential reasons

Healthcare workers cross a Montreal street to enter the COVID-19 testing facility on Friday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
  • Quebec currently has 2,498 confirmed cases and 22 deaths attributable to COVID-19.
  • Travel into certain regions with vulnerable populations is being restricted as of today.
  • What do those numbers mean for Quebec? CBC explains the math here.
  • Montreal, which is under a local state of emergency, has the majority of cases: 1,219. 
  • The Jewish General Hospital will be opening triage centres outside of the ER for people with mild COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Three safe injection sites in Montreal have temporarily closed.
  • Montreal has temporarily closed dog parks and community gardens. See our open/closed tracker.
  • Officials in Kanesatake have again advised that their tobacco shops are closed and that people from outside the community should stay away.

The Quebec government is enacting restrictions on free movement in certain parts of the province to slow the spread of COVID-19, with the number of confirmed cases in the province rising to 2,498 and deaths to 22.

As of 4 p.m. Saturday, police officers have checkpoints in place to restrict access to eight regions: Bas Saint-Laurent, Saguenay–Lac Saint Jean, Gaspesie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Côte-Nord, Nord-du-Québec, Nunavik and Cree territories around James Bay.

Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault said the measure is necessary to protect the people in those "more remote and vulnerable" regions, where many are elderly or isolated from accessible health care.

"Don't be surprised if after 4 p.m. you are intercepted" if you are driving in those areas, Guilbault said. People not travelling for essential reasons will be turned back.

Isolated communities at risk

The mayor of Bonne-Espérance, Roderick Fequet, says he and others on the Côte-Nord have been pushing for such restrictions for weeks, as their remote communities would be very vulnerable to the virus if it spread within the population.

"I'm really pleased to hear this," he said. "We think it's a very prudent measure that is required to protect our very senior population." There are currently 13 confirmed cases in the region.

Sharleen Sullivan, the executive director of the Neighbours Regional Association of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, says that starting next month, Quebecers would normally start travelling in the region to open their cottages.

"I would imagine that that played a big part into why we're one of the regions that they want to control the travel to and fro. So I think it's a good idea," she said. 

"I think we were in a little bit of denial and now it's hitting home that we're not protected up here at all, that we're subject to it as much as anybody else."

That realization hit when the virus spread at a funeral, infecting more than a dozen people and sending two to hospital. There are now 24 confirmed cases in the region.

"I welcome it," said Bella M. Petawabano, chair of the Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay of the new restrictions. There is currently one confirmed case in the territory.

But she said it's essential that they can continue to receive goods such as food and that first responders who live elsewhere can still come to work in the region.

The province also began setting up police checkpoints along the U.S. border Saturday morning, Guilbault said, so people returning from the U.S. can be informed about rules around self-isolating when they return.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said the regional travel restrictions are a preventative measure to keep the virus from spreading to those regions en masse.

"People leave from an area and they don't know they're infected," he explained. "They think, in good faith, that they are going somewhere. Then they become the source that bombards a region."

Limiting access to those eight regions leaves only a fraction of the territory open for domestic ground travel: a section of Quebec connecting Gatineau, the Laurentians, Montreal, Quebec City, and the Eastern Townships.

The 2,498 confirmed cases of COVID-19 represent an increase of 477 since yesterday, and the total of 22 deaths attributed to the virus is an increase of four. There are 174 people being treated in hospital, up from 141 yesterday, and 57 in intensive care, a rise of seven.

All the deaths so far have been people over 60 years old, Arruda said. 

"I know it's difficult to hear this every day," Guilbault said, "and today is no exception."

Montreal ramps up response

The first emergency day shelters aimed at helping Montreal's homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic opened Saturday at Cabot Square and Place Émilie-Gamelin.

The city is providing security, food, tents and chairs.

Mayor Valérie Plante declared a local state of emergency Friday, saying the city wanted at least five sites ready to accommodate homeless Montrealers.

Resilience Montreal, the day centre that operates near Cabot Square, was forced to close its doors earlier this week. Nakuset, the shelter's co-manager, said the city's initiative will help them properly do their job.

"It's almost easier to do it outside than it was inside because of the cramped location," she said. "Now in the park, people can move around easier. We also have the opportunity to get them to do social distancing."

Three more day shelters are planned, city officials say.

Yesterday's announcement marks the third time Montreal has declared a state of emergency in four years. The other emergencies were called in response to spring flooding.

Plante said she's in constant contact with borough mayors and mayors from the demerged municipalities to prepare for flooding, should it happen again.

"We're following the situation," Plante said, "kind of crossing our fingers that the ice will melt in a smooth way. Whatever happens, we will deal."

Tourism lodgings ordered to close

Meanwhile, the province has ordered all tourism-related lodgings across Quebec to close, starting Saturday.

The only exceptions are for hotels and campgrounds designated to house "snowbirds" — people who have recently returned after spending winter in warmer climates.

Any reservations that were already made will be cancelled, the Corporation de l'industrie touristique du Québec (CITQ), which represents Quebec's tourism industry, said in a statement.

NDG Pharmaprix employees test positive

Two employees of a Pharmaprix in NDG have tested positive for COVID-19. A notice about the cases was sent by email to some customers Friday night, but does not say when the employees tested positive or started showing symptoms.

Their last shifts were on March 11 and March 14.

The pharmacy, at the corner of Sherbrooke and Benny streets, said it will be reaching out to customers who recently visited the store.

A long-term care facility for seniors in Laval is also reporting an outbreak of COVID-19.

One person at the CHSLD La Pinière has died and six more have tested positive. The residence houses about a hundred seniors.

The Jewish General Hospital, one of the designated sites for treating people with the virus, will be setting up trailers outside of the hospital to evaluate people with mild symptoms. The trailers will not be used for testing and will be set up in the next week.

with files from Verity Stevenson and Leah Hendry

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