With reopening of bars, spas and casinos, life returns to near-normal in Quebec
But Quebecers must get used to physical distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands, says Dr. Horacio Arruda
Effective immediately, bars, spas, water parks, casinos — nearly every kind of business in Quebec — can reopen, on the condition that people adhere to sanitary regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's public health director, urged Quebecers to get used to physical distancing, wearing a mask and washing hands.
"I'm telling you — be wary. Have a good summer, but don't forget the virus is there," Arruda said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, alongside Montreal's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin.
There are three exceptions to the province's reopening: there will still be no festivals or other large gatherings this summer, no sleepaway camps, and sports that involve close-contact fighting will not be allowed to resume.
Can people maintain distance after a few drinks?
The bar scene will be noticeably different under the new regulations. For one thing, the clientele has to remain seated, which means no dancing.
Still, bar owners are breathing a sigh of relief. Several Montreal bars have not survived the financial hit caused by COVID-19 confinement measures, according to Pierre Thibault, president of the New Association of Bars of Quebec and co-owner of Taverne Saint-Sacrement.
"We're hoping everyone can get back on their feet," said Thibault.
Thibault understands the importance of clients and staff respecting strict sanitary measures, but he acknowledges that might be tricky after a few drinks.
"It's a big challenge, but at the same time, people don't want to have their neighbourhood bar closed again," Thibault said. "If everyone collaborates, we can get through it."
However, Dr. Caroline Quach, a pediatric microbiologist at Sainte-Justine hospital, says she doesn't see how bars can enforce physical-distancing regulations.
"When we've drunk a bit, and when we lose our capacity for judgment, we don't think about the two-metre rule anymore," Quach said.
Stay vigilant: public health director
Arruda complimented Quebecers for doing well so far at maintaining physical distance from others and quelling the spread of the virus, but he warned they must keep at it.
"I am worried by the fact that you can see people becoming less diligent as we reopen," Arruda said.
He said he understands the temptation: "It's summer; it's nice out."
However, he said, sanitary measures need to become a "reflex" for Quebecers, especially as a second wave of the pandemic is likely.
Several times during his news conference, he urged people to wear masks.
While other jurisdictions in Canada, like Ottawa and Guelph, in Ontario, have made masks mandatory in confined spaces such as on public transit, and Côte Saint-Luc will oblige people to wear masks in indoor public spaces starting next month, Quebec has so far not followed suit.
The Quebec public health institute, the INSPQ, is studying the possibility of making masks mandatory, Arruda said.
"It's something that we are looking at very closely," he said.
Florida, other southern U.S. states a major concern
"How people can see each other without transmitting the virus is a challenge," said Dr. Gaston De Serres, an INSPQ epidemiologist and professor of epidemiology at Université Laval.
Quebec's regulations must strive to allow people as little contact with others as possible, De Serres told CBC News.
He said as Quebec reopens, it should learn from what is happening right now in the U.S.
Twenty-six states have recorded an increase in the number of cases, compared to last week, and California, Texas and Florida all set records for the number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day.
Although the reasons for the alarming increase in cases in the U.S. are not yet totally clear, "the [American] south is giving us lessons on how not to act."
Arruda, too, is concerned about what is happening in the U.S. right now, particularly in Florida, "where Quebecers love to go."
"There are some who said they couldn't go this winter, and they want to go this summer — and truly, that worries. me."
"I'm worried that people will come back and won't self-isolate."
Arruda said he plans to raise the issue of whether the border with the U.S. should be reopened with his counterparts in other provinces and with the federal government.
"The south, it's a hot zone, and I suggest you don't go," he said. "You are better just staying under the Quebec sun."