Situation in Montreal good enough to reopen stores next week and daycares by June, Legault says
Recent figures suggest that strain on Montreal hospitals is easing, premier says
COVID-19 has taken its toll on Montreal with 22,028 confirmed cases and nearly 2,300 dead, but Quebec Premier François Legault says the situation has finally improved enough to allow stores to reopen on May 25 and daycares on June 1.
"The trend is good and allows us to take that bet," Legault said on Monday. "But in order to win that bet we need the collaboration of all Quebecers if we want the spread to not surge up again."
That means respecting public health guidelines with regular handwashing, physical distancing and wearing a mask when out in public, said Legault. He even vowed to make face coverings mandatory if too many people refuse to wear one.
"We need to follow public health instructions if we don't want to go back and have to put the brakes on the reopening," the premier said.
Only stores with separate, street entrances — not malls — will be allowed to open and the province is still figuring out what to do about all the other businesses, ranging from restaurants to gyms, that are still closed throughout Quebec.
Meanwhile, Montreal-area parents will have a tough time returning to work if they have young children at home because schools will remain closed until the fall and daycares will be operating at 50 per cent capacity.
"I understand some workers will be in trouble because they won't all have a place for their child," Legault said. "I think we have to go gradually."
Decline in hospitalizations, deaths
Stores have been open in the rest of the province since May 4, and elementary schools since May 11. Closer to the city, hospitals have been struggling to keep up with demand due to space constraints and staffing shortages.
Now, however, health officials are seeing a notable decline in the number of hospitalizations and deaths. At the same time, medical staff are returning to work and hospital capacity has vastly improved, according to Gilbert Boucher, head of Quebec's association of emergency medicine specialists.
The 34 new deaths announced Monday is the lowest that figure has been in more than a month and there have been fewer than 40 daily hospital admissions for COVID-19 in recent days, said Boucher.
In total, about 1,300 people sought emergency care in Montreal on Sunday when the number usually hovers around 2,500 and the occupancy rate was 73 per cent, he said.
Of the roughly 4,500 hospital beds in Montreal, about 850 have been dedicated to COVID-19 patients. About 50 per cent of those beds are "filled with patients who don't need to be in the hospital," Boucher said.
While long-term care homes are slowly taking residents back, some homes are either closed or not allowing people to move back in due to issues such as staff shortages. That means some patients are stuck in hospital even if they aren't very ill, he said.
Overall, Montreal-area hospitals are ready to handle an influx of new admissions if necessary once stores and daycares reopen, Boucher said. But, he added, that uptick in infections is less likely to happen if people follow public health guidelines, as those guidelines have proven to prevent community transmission.
In early March, there were far more young, otherwise healthy people seeking medical help than there are today. Boucher said that's a sign the population has caught on to the importance of good hygiene and distancing.
Boucher said it is vital people maintain those hygiene habits because "if everybody gets infected at the same time, we will have a surge that will be difficult to handle."
Retailers ready to open, business lobby says
As Montreal-area store owners prepare to welcome clients for the first time since March, some are seeking help from the government to ensure that reopening can happen safely.
"Shopkeepers will do everything to avoid a second phase of confinement by implementing all the sanitary measures," said Gopinath Jeyabalaratnam, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, a lobby group.
"Thus, we invite the government to help them succeed at this deconfinement by facilitating access to masks, sanitary products, gloves, etc."
The business lobby group also wants the government to relax rules for those store owners who won't be allowed to open on May 25, such as hair salons and barbershops.
Jeyabalaratnam said they should be allowed to offer curbside pickup for customers looking to buy things like dyes or specialty products.
Dominique Perrazino, who has owned the Chez Ménick barbershop in Little Italy for 50 years, is resigned to the fact he'll have to wait a little longer before he is cutting hair again.
"I think we will be at the bottom. Dentists, barbers — these services will be the last to function normally in my opinion," Perrazino told Radio-Canada.
"This is the first time that we have experienced anything like this. There is nothing to do but be patient."
With files from Radio-Canada