Residents in Quebec's COVID-19 hot spots caught off guard by new restrictions
'This may be the worst time,' says spokesperson of province's restaurants association
It only took three weeks for restaurant dining rooms in the Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches regions to close down once again.
On Wednesday, Premier François Legault gave restaurant owners a little more than 24 hours to shut down, and hopes that a busy Easter weekend would provide a lifeline to businesses that have been battered by the pandemic were dashed.
"We have tens of thousands of dollars of product that have been ordered in the past couple weeks since we've been open," said Charles Lacroix, owner of one of the Blaxton pub and grill locations in Quebec City.
"They didn't even give us until the weekend to help us empty a little bit of the inventory and recuperate some of the money that we invested."
The growing spread of coronavirus variants is what has prompted the Legault government to upgrade the Quebec City, Chaudières-Appalaches, Outaouais and Lower Saint-Lawrence regions from orange to red zones. It's also put in place stricter measures in three cities: Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau.
In addition to restaurant dining rooms shutting down, schools, gyms, theatres, hairdressers and other non-essential businesses will be closed until April 12. Places of worship will remain open, but they will only be allowed to welcome a maximum of 25 people.
"This may be the worst time," said François Meunier, who is the vice-president of public and government affairs at the Association Restauration Québec (ARQ).
"Easter weekend, especially in these circumstances, there was interest in the population... to go restaurants which is allowed in an orange zone. All of it just went up in smoke."
The premier said the newly closed restaurants would be eligible to receive financial assistance from the province.
All signs pointed to a spike in cases
With schools closing, parents in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau are also scrambling to make child-care plans — or bracing for the fact that they don't have one.
For Caroline Paquette, a Gatineau resident, that means juggling work from home while helping her three children with online learning.
"That's what we're trying to plan out, how we'll be managing everything, who's going to be doing what class with what kid at what time," she said.
The announcement may have caught a lot of people by surprise, but several public health experts say it was clear the epidemiological situation in Quebec was getting worse, and something needed to be done quickly.
"All the models were predicting if we did not increase our safety measures, the growth would be exponential, and that's what's happening because of the variant," said Dr. Cécile Tremblay, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at the CHUM.
"Not only did we not increase safety, but we decreased them."
On Wednesday, the premier said he was surprised the most noticeable spike in cases occurred outside the Montreal region, where restrictions were lifted less than a week ago. But he warned another increase in cases may lead to them being put back in place.
In recent days, several experts and groups, including the Collège des médecins du Québec and the Quebec order of nurses, had called on the government to tighten the rules.
Legault said he heard their concerns, while also saying his government's recent decision is a targeted one that aims to lower the spread in places where it is most worrisome.
"We put the Mauricie-et-Centre-du-Québec and the Eastern Townships in orange at the same time as Quebec City. Everything is going well in the Eastern Townships, but it's not going well in Quebec City," Legault said.
"So when they are asking us to take a step back, did they want us to step back everywhere? I think we need to have facts [before acting]. That's what we did."
With files from Sharon Yonan Renold and Radio-Canada