Montreal

Health minister may close bars if there's proof they're behind rise in COVID-19 cases

Quebec has reported 142 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours — the highest daily total since late June. Health Minister Christian Dubé says he wants outbreaks analyzed to see if they are directly linked to bars.

Quebec sees uptick in COVID-19 cases as Montreal bar-goers flock to get tested

On Thursday, people lined up outside the Hôtel Dieu testing clinic for hours to get a COVID-19 test. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said that if public health officials provide clear data linking the uptick in new COVID-19 cases to the reopening of bars, he could shut down the recently reopened watering holes a second time.

After calling on bar-goers on the island of Montreal to get tested for COVID-19, Quebec has reported 142 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours — the highest daily total since June 24.

Montreal's public health authority has confirmed that there are 45 cases tied to bars in Montreal. Fourteen bars have been identified as having one or more cases. One bar is connected to at least 11 cases.

Dubé said he is worried about the upward trend in cases, but he wants to wait and make sure health officials know concretely that the cases are connected to bars before taking action.

He said he's waiting on data from public health rather than "working based on perceptions."

Dubé said that the government was unprepared for the flood of people who showed up to get tested in the last few days, saying it was "a victim of [its] own success."

The government is taking steps to increase its testing capacity and make the wait time more comfortable for people, he said.

"I'm not happy … about people having to wait for three, four hours," he said. "We will make sure that we give good customer service to make sure that people who are willing to come here and get tested can get tested quickly."

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said he wants to make sure the increase in cases is tied directly to the reopening of bars before taking action. (Steve Rukavina/CBC)

Speaking in the Gaspé Thursday morning, Premier François Legault said he is not ruling out shutting down bars, but he wants to assess the situation to see whether the changes brought in last week are having an impact.

Following an outbreak at a bar on Montreal's South Shore, the Quebec government cracked down on bars, forcing them to close earlier, limit capacity and ask patrons to sign a register in order to facilitate contact tracing.

Dubé echoed the premier's stance, saying that since bars reopened June 25, it's possible that the new rules brought in last Friday aren't reflected in the data yet.

Frustrated by wait times

For several days, the clinic at the Hôtel-Dieu has seen a large influx of people wanting to get tested, with Montrealers lining up along St-Urbain Street and up Parc Avenue into Jeanne-Mance Park.

Dora Hsaio arrived at the Hotel Dieu testing site at 9:15 a.m. Thursday, 45 minutes before it opened. She was given a ticket by security saying she would be tested between 12 and 1 p.m. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Dora Hsaio arrived at the Hôtel-Dieu clinic Thursday morning, 45 minutes before it opened, to wait in line. She was given a ticket by security saying she would only be tested three hours later.

"At least they are keeping us informed of the wait times but it's frustrating to wait that long," she said. "It's kind of a waste of a day."

Watch as gender equality consultant discusses impact of government's reopening plan: 
There is growing concern that the government is risking a safe return to school for the sake of keeping bars afloat. Gender equality consultant Lauren Dobson-Hughes spoke with CBC Montreal News at 6 host Debra Arbec about the impact of the government's reopening plan on kids, parents, and especially on women. 1:51

Vincent Goulet took another approach, driving from Montreal's east end all the way to Beaconsfield in the West Island to avoid the long wait times for COVID-19 tests.

Goulet's plan to avoid taking time off work for the test paid off, as he was first in line when the clinic opened.

"I feel like I made the right decision to be here," he said.

With files from CBC's Kate McKenna

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