Montreal protesters urge government to allow dance floors to reopen
'It's reasonable to at least start discussing,' says virologist
A crowd of Montrealers held a large dance party on Mount Royal Saturday afternoon to urge the Quebec government to reverse its ban on dancing in bars and clubs.
A DJ blasted music over a loudspeaker as protesters donned wigs, onesies and sparkly costumes as they swayed to the music and waved signs reading "dance for the right to dance."
"We're ready, we're responsible people, we're all vaccinated and we just want to be able to try to get back to normal a little bit and have some fun," said Alex Stojda, who attended the protest.
Stojda said he understands the public health concerns about dancing, but there have been enough large indoor events in recent months to prove that it's possible to do things safely if precautions are followed.
Several in the crowd said it's unfair the government is allowing large venues, such as the Bell Centre, to reopen at full capacity for concerts and hockey games, but clubs and bars can't open their dance floors to much smaller crowds.
Melanie Leeson, who was also at the protest, said that after seeing some 20,000 people in the stands at the Bell Centre for a recent Montreal Canadiens game, she feels the government ban is discriminating against those who love the nightlife.
"I feel like if we're at a point where we can be in a crowd that large indoors, I don't see why nightlife can't be allowed if people follow health measures," she said.
Quebec and British Columbia are the only two provinces that continue to ban dancing in bars and nightclubs as part of their COVID-19 regulations.
Quebec has said it's taking a gradual approach to lifting pandemic-related restrictions, and experts have said dancing can be dangerous because of a lack of distancing and other factors.
Protesters have a point, virologist says
But those at the protest said the ban has gone on long enough, and it's time to let people relax and have fun while still respecting measures to limit the risk.
Benoit Barbeau, a virologist in the department of biological sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal, said the protesters' argument is fair given that more people are being vaccinated, the vaccination passport system is in place and the number of COVID-19 cases is slowly decreasing.
"It's reasonable to at least start discussing and see what kind of scenario might be better, and the option could be at least to limit the number of people who are allowed to go in nightclubs," he said.
"In that situation, you would definitely reduce the probability of having transmission, but I guess it still remains a grey zone. We're still in the fourth wave, which still seems to be well controlled."
Mike Rein, co-owner of Stereo, a nightclub in downtown Montreal and one of the organizers of Saturday's protest, said nightclub and bar owners are being left in the dark.
"When we see concerts and shows with people dancing and singing with no masks on ... we just now look at it and say it's not fair," he said.
Rein said club owners have followed public health guidelines since the start of the pandemic and he wants to see the government offer them some relief.
"We're OK with masks, we're OK with passports, we're OK with everything. We just want the right to open."
The Health Ministry said discussions about lifting more restrictions are underway, but it's still unclear at this point what measures will be relaxed and when.
As of Nov. 1, restaurants and bars will be allowed to operate at full capacity. The ban on dancing, standing and singing will remain in effect, and the vaccination passport will still be required.
With files from Valeria Cori-Mannochio