Authorities struggle to get rural Quebec residents to follow public health rules

 Dr Liliana Romero, regional director of public health in Chaudière-Appalaches, said on Sunday that plenty of residents are flouting the rules. Hair salon owner André Veilleux says people like him are paying for "those who are not careful at all."

'We pay for those who are not careful at all,' says hair salon owner in Sainte-Marie

André Veilleux will once again have to temporarily close his hairdressing salon at 8 p.m. on Monday. He owns Salon coupe d'art in Sainte-Marie, Que. (Marie-Pier Mercier/Radio-Canada)

André Veilleux knows all too well what temporarily closing his salon means for business, as throughout the pandemic his customers have been buying clippers and dye kits to do their hair at home.

Salon coupe d'art in Sainte-Marie, Que., will continue to lose money beyond the most recent lockdown because customers are getting good at maintaining their own hair, he said.

And then there are those who simply cannot wait for him to reopen, demanding immediate appointments when the government has allowed him to reopen in the past. He has been forced to turn them away, he said.

"They will go and look elsewhere," said Veilleux, estimating his pandemic losses at around 35 per cent. "It's hard on morale."

The provincial government has added several more municipalities to a growing list of isolated economic lockdown measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 variants which are transmitting at an alarming rate in certain areas.

The municipalities affected are Beauce-Sartigan, Bellechasse, Les Etchemins, La Nouvelle-Beauce and Robert-Cliche. 

In a news release Sunday, Quebec's Ministry of Health said the emergency measures are due to a "significant rise in new cases in several sectors" of the region south of Quebec City. 

The rise in COVID-19 cases in rural sectors of Quebec is being blamed largely on the residents for failing to respect public health rules. (Radio-Canada)

The ministry reported 136 new cases in the region Sunday, nearly double the 74 cases reported a day earlier.

Starting Monday evening, these five municipalities will join Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau, which were locked down last week.

Church gatherings have been limited while schools, gyms, theatres, restaurant dining rooms and other non-essential businesses are closed until at least April 12. 

And business owners like Veilleux want people to behave themselves so the government has no reason to extend the lockdown, but he knows people are still getting together at home.

"We pay for those who are not careful at all," Veilleux said.

Veilleux isn't the only one who has noticed people aren't respecting public health measures. 

"People do not say it too much, but we know that there have been family gatherings," Dr. Liliana Romero, regional director of public health in Chaudière-Appalaches, said on Sunday that plenty of residents are flouting the rules.

"We also know that it is more difficult for a certain group of the population to adhere to health measures."

Jonathan Bolduc, a prefect for the regional municipality of Robert-Cliche, said there are too many under-the-radar gatherings happening at people's homes as it has been hard to convince the population to follow the public health orders.

He understands the urgency to act, but blames the government for having lost control of the key message. The new measures came as a surprise, announced with barely 24 hours' notice, he said.

"That's a lot of change in a very short time," Bolduc said.

While the government cracks down hard and fast in these areas, merchants are going to take yet another hard hit, according to Nancy Labbé, director general of the Beauce region's chamber of commerce and industry.

Labbé suspects the closure will be maintained beyond April 12, but even then it will cause issues for businesses like hair salons which are forced to postpone appointments.

For merchants, she said, "it's discouraging."

with files from Radio-Canada

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