Montreal·Video

Quebec will not loosen most red zone restrictions despite call from Montreal public health officials

The premier did say he will consider allowing people to meet with friends or family one-on-one, citing mental health difficulties young adults who are taking college and university courses online at home are experiencing. 

But premier says government will consider allowing 2 people to meet

Montreal public health officials say venues such as fitness centres should be allowed to reopen. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Quebec Premier François Legault says there is no question of reopening gyms, museums, concert halls or restaurants in the province's COVID-19 red zones anytime soon, despite a request from Montreal public health officials to roll the restrictions back.

"They create opportunities for transmission," Legault said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

The premier did say he will consider allowing two people to meet at a time, citing the mental health difficulties experienced by young adults who are taking college and university courses online, while living at home with their parents. 

"I understand that it's very difficult for some people. People living alone can already receive one person at a time. I've asked to evaluate the possibility of allowing meetings between two people in all cases," Legault said.

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Premier opens door to one-on-one visits

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Premier François Legault says the province is trying to balance COVID precautions and quality of life, and will consider allowing two people to meet at a time.

Montreal public health officials warned the province about the physical and mental health consequences of prolonged red zone restrictions, and urged the Quebec government to lift some of them, in a memo sent on Oct. 26.

In a 12-page document obtained by Radio-Canada, local health officials claim the current restrictions are causing "resistance" and "confusion," and suggested indoor gatherings be allowed, regardless of their size, as long as the people present come from no more than two addresses.

Local health officials are also asking the province to:

  • Allow outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, or a maximum of four households.
  • Reopen fitness centres for individual workouts, with people allowed to work out under a trainer's supervision, while banning group exercise activities.
  • Reopen auditoriums and theatres, with a maximum of 25 people.
  • Reopen museums and other cultural venues, with the number of people allowed in depending on their capacity.
  • Reopen libraries, with the maximum capacity depending on their size.

The reopening of bars and restaurant dining rooms are not among the recommendations listed in the document, though Montreal public health officials did suggest terraces should be open — even though winter is coming up — as part of a long-term plan.

Legault, who spoke alongside Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda and Health Minister Christian Dubé, said the government has to send the message that everyone must limit their contacts. 

"If one person infects another person, that's one thing," he said. "If one person infects many people it's a different thing; it becomes exponential."

He said the government is working to strike a balance between saving lives and maintaining a reasonable quality of life for all Quebecers, and that the government is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating what restrictions are best.

Quebec's public health director said the government and all public health authorities are very concerned about the adverse mental health effects of COVID-19 restrictions — but public health decisions are linked to the capacity of hospitals. 

"It's about whether our healthcare system is overflowing and we won't be able to care for people with other health problems," Arruda said. 

Arruda acknowledged Tuesday that the COVID-19 situation in the Montreal and Quebec City regions was improving, and said restrictions could be loosened if the trend continues.

Dr. Mylène Drouin, Montreal's public health director, declined an interview request, but a spokesperson said the main goal remains to control the spread of the virus, while striking a balance by loosening some restrictions.

Microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist Dr. Caroline Quach says a gradual reopening could be possible since community transmission of COVID-19 in Montreal has slowed since red zone restrictions were put in place, and the number of new cases per day has stabilized. 

"If we try to restrict everything, people will try to see each other anyway because it is a vital need," Quach said on Radio-Canada's Tout un matin.

She said the goal of public health measures is not to eliminate transmission of the virus altogether, but to control it so there is enough space in hospitals to treat severe COVID-19 cases as well as other sicknesses. 

With files from Radio-Canada's Thomas Gerbet

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