COVID-19: Bars, clubs, gyms and other public spaces closed until further notice in Quebec

At a news conference in Quebec City, Premier François Legault said a jump in confirmed cases reinforced the need for even further social distancing measures.

Provincial government takes drastic measures following increase in confirmed cases

'I understand that I'm asking a lot of Quebecer. I know there are people who are probably stressed,' Premier François Legault said Sunday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
  • Recreational and leisure sites are closed until further notice, including bars, clubs, movie theatres and gyms.
  • Restaurants can stay open, but asked not to serve more than 50 per cent of capacity. 
  • The closure affects ski hills, amusement parks, water parks, arcades, zoos and aquariums in Quebec.
  • Indoor classes like yoga, dance, and spinning are closed, as well as spas and saunas.
  • 39 confirmed cases in Quebec, up from 24 on Saturday. A further 1,186 cases are under investigation.
  • Free child- and daycare for essential service providers (health-care workers, police, firefighters), as well as 60,000 free babysitting spots for children aged four to 13. 
  • The Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops is recommending all church events be cancelled or postponed, including funerals, marriages and baptisms.
  • Starting Monday, the Order of Quebec dentists is postponing all non-urgent appointments for a two week period.

Bars, clubs, concert halls and most other recreational sites in Quebec have been ordered to close, under new measures announced Sunday to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Public health officials announced there are now 39 confirmed cases in the province, up from 24 on Saturday, one of the sharpest increases yet. Among the new cases are the first two identified in the Quebec City area. 

At a news conference in Quebec City, Premier François Legault said the jump in confirmed cases justified the need for more drastic social distancing measures.

"The increase is not surprising. We were expecting it," Legault said. "We have to give ourselves the best chance to slow the contagion over the next days."

Public Health Director Horacio Arruda provided a long list of recreational and leisure sites that will have to close their doors temporarily. It included water parks, arcades and sugar shacks. Pharmacies, shopping malls and grocery stores are not subject to the ban.   

Restaurants, Legault said, should stay open, but only use half their usual capacity. "People should sit at every second table," he said.

"You should only go out to work, buy bread, go to the pharmacy, get treatments, take a walk or help people 70 years and older."

An almost deserted food court in a shopping mall in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Public-health emergency

The government gave itself the power to shut down public spaces when it invoked the public-health emergency section of the Public Health Act on Saturday. This is the first time in Quebec's history that legislative tool has been used.

Already schools, CEGEPs and universities in the province have suspended classes. Daycare facilities have been shut down. Professional and amateur sports teams have put their seasons on hold.

On Saturday, the province announced it was banning visits to hospitals and elderly care residences. It also asked people under 70 to stay at home as much as possible. 

Together these measures amount to some of the largest restrictions on civil liberties in Quebec in the last 50 years.

But if the restrictions are followed, Arruda said, Quebec will be able to avoid the worst-case projections of the virus' spread, which suggest between 40 and 60 per cent of the province could be infected.   

"Do what we're telling you. I'm begging you," Arruda said. "This is about your own health, the health of your fellow citizens. I'm not saying this because I want to play at being dictator ... We're better off being overly careful than not enough."

Restaurant owners now depending on delivery

Despite the impending disruption to their businesses, bar and restaurant owners in Quebec said they understood the government's need to take aggressive action. 

"Honestly, I'm all for it. We're ready to do anything we can to help the public and ensure the safety of our staff," said Peter Mammas, president and CEO Foodtastic, the company behind a number of Montreal restaurant chains such as La belle et la Bœuf and Carlos & Pepe's.

Peter Mammas is the president and CEO of Foodtastic, a company that owns a number of Montreal restaurant chains like La belle et la Bœuf, Au Coq, Bacaro and Carlos & Pepe's. (Ainslie MacLellan/CBC)

Foodtastic was already seeing a decline in sales, by as much as 60 per cent at some restaurants, since the outbreak hit Quebec. Mammas said those losses have been compensated, in part, by an uptick in delivery orders.

"Our employees live week to week on their paychecks, so in order to protect as many jobs as possible, we're going to try to maximize sales where we can," he said.

The head of an association of movie theatre owners, Vincenzo Guzzo, said he's disappointed the entertainment industry was singled out, but added: "I understand where it's coming from." 

"We're going to take the next two weeks as a great opportunity to fix up the theatres," said Guzzo, who owns 10 cinemas in the province.

Health-care system getting ready for a long fight 

In the meantime, the Quebec government continues to prepare its health-care system for an extended battle with the virus.

So far all the confirmed cases in Quebec were contracted outside the province, but public officials anticipate the first local transmission will be detected shortly.

A Coronavirus information sign is shown at a mobile phone sales booth in a shopping mall in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Delaying local transmission, and slowly contagion, will help the health-care system deal with the more severe cases, as well as non-COVID-19-related emergencies.   

Health Minister Danielle McCann said her ministry is taking steps to secure more hospital beds, including in disused hospitals. She's also trying desperately to recruit more health care staff.

The government is promising it won't dock the pensions of retired nurses and doctors who are willing to return to work, and will also cover their professional fees and insurance payments.

Legault met with representatives from the health care sector on Sunday. "They will be the most important people in our society in the weeks and months ahead," the premier said. He's repeatedly called them Quebec's "guardian angels."

As part of its effort to secure front-line services during the outbreak, the government said it will begin offering free daycare to health care workers, ambulance technicians, police officers, correctional services workers and firefighters.

They will also have access to 60,000 free babysitting spots for children aged between four and 13 years old.

People working in those sectors are asked to visit the government's website for more information on those special daycares.

With files from Ainslie MacLellan, Marilla Steuter-Martin and Verity Stevenson