Quebec's North Shore remains closed to travellers until May 31

Regional public health officials on the North Shore say they want to protect citizens in the region, where there have been just 114 cases of COVID-19.

Public health officials want to protect citizens in region, where there've been just 114 COVID-19 cases

The roadblock in Tadoussac, Que., that is limiting travel to the North Shore will remain in place until at least May 31. (Marlène Joseph-Blais/Radio-Canada)

Public health officials on Quebec's North Shore are keeping the region closed from the rest of the province until at least May 31.

The travel restrictions were supposed to be lifted Monday, May 18 on the North Shore, as well as in several other regions, including the Lower Saint-Lawrence and the Gaspé.

Public health officials on the North Shore say they want to protect citizens in the region, where there have been just 114 people made ill by COVID-19 — the majority of whom have now recovered. They have decided the roadblock on Highway 138 at Tadoussac will remain in place for at least two more weeks.

Dyane Benoit, who is with the CISSS Côte-Nord, said residents need more time to get used to the hygiene measures that have become routine in the rest of the province.

"With spring arriving and the reopening of businesses, sometimes we forget physical distancing or other measures," Benoit said. "So we wanted to take this opportunity to be more ready."

Baie-Comeau Mayor Yves Montigny said because there was a roadblock preventing all travel to the region, people have had a false sense of security and haven't gotten into the habit of staying two metres apart from one another.

"That really worries me," said Montigny. "That roadblock won't be there forever, and when it goes, we'll have to learn to cope with this pandemic."

The mayor of Sept-Îles, Réjean Porlier, said he welcomes the extension but said the region cannot remain confined indefinitely. 

"We know there will eventually be more cases on the North Shore — and in the rest of the province — but it's important to not lose control, and to move slowly," Porlier said.

Innu communities at risk

Dr. Stanley Vollant, who has raised awareness and funds over the years to support mental health initiatives in Indigenous communities, had advised public health officials to maintain travel restrictions to the North Shore. (CBC)

Innu leaders had also expressed concerns about the original May 18 reopening date. Some band councils had set up barriers to their communities even before the province announced its restrictions because of the vulnerability of some residents.

Dr. Stanley Vollant, the surgeon and mental-health activist from Pessamit who worked with Innu communities along the coast to oversee COVID-19 prevention measures, said they had only 10 cases of COVID-19 out of a population of about 20,000.

All of the Innu who were infected have now recovered.

Vollant said diabetes, hypertension and pulmonary disease — all risk factors for COVID-19 — are three to four times higher among the Innu than in Quebec's population at large. Overcrowding in some communities, with up to 14 people living in a three-bedroom house, is also a situation he finds worrisome.

"We are a little bit frightened that we could have the same situation than in the CHSLDs in Montreal," Vollant said. "A small flame can engulf the whole house."

As of this week, travel along the North Shore for the region's residents will be less restrictive, however.

The roadblock near Rivière-au-Tonnerre, east of Sept-Îles, that controlled traffic going to the Minganie region will be lifted in the coming days. That means people will be able to travel east along Highway 138, all the way to Kegaska.

Travel to the Lower North Shore is also restricted.

With files from Radio-Canada

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