Montreal

From school to business closures, Quebec's fight against Omicron drums up mixed reactions

Quebec is ramping up health restrictions once again with more than just a curfew. The provincial government is also closing restaurant dining rooms, delaying the reopening of schools and closing non-essential businesses on Sundays.

School centre calls for improved ventilation while restaurant owners say they needed more warning

Quebec is ringing in the new year by enacting a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Schools, businesses and restaurants will also be affected by the new measures. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Doug Bentley's two kids attend St. Patrick Elementary School in Pincourt, Que., just west of Montreal, and he's grateful it won't reopen until at least Jan. 17.

He said keeping kids apart "is only good for the collective health," but on the flip side, home-schooling is "difficult to manage."

With a daughter in Grade 1, he said it is challenging to keep her on task while he and his wife work from home.

The reopening of secondary and primary schools is delayed across the province, said Premier François Legault on Thursday. There is no plan for CEGEPs and universities yet.

Katherine Korakakis, president of Quebec's English Parents' Committee Association, said there is "a lot of anxiety. A lot of fear. A lot of uncertainty."

She said many people were questioning the previous plan to reopen schools on Jan. 10. 

Giving time to administer booster shots, Legault says

Delaying the reopening of schools by a week will give staff and personnel more time to get their booster shots, increasing their protection from a COVID-19 infection from 30 per cent to 75 per cent, Legault said.

"It's quite the difference," he said.

Given the current situation, postponing the return to face-to-face classes seems the right thing to do for now, said Éric Gingras, head of the Centrale des unions du Québec (CSQ), which represents 125,000 education personnel.

"Remote learning is far from being optimal for students, especially those with learning disabilities, as well as for their families, and the same is true for education staff," he said in a statement.

Quebec Premier François Legault noted that though roughly 10 per cent of Quebecers are not vaccinated, they represent 50 per cent of those in hospital. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"The most important thing now will be to do everything possible to open our schools in a way that is safe for everybody, and above all, to prevent them from once again becoming a major source of outbreaks."

Schools need a range of tools to maintain safety such as rapid tests and personal protective equipment, he said. It is also important, he added, to have a serious talk about ventilation in schools.

Restaurant owners, SMEs left in a lurch

Restaurants in Quebec will once again be closing their dining rooms, and with a few exceptions, stores will be closed on Sunday for the next three weeks.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said small- to medium-sized enterprises (SME) will hurt because of these restrictions.

"As we enter a third year marked by economic restrictions due to the pandemic, the resilience of SME owners who juggle these repeated closures will sooner or later reach their limits," the federation said in a statement.

But it's not just closing dining rooms and stores on Sundays that will be damaging, the federation explains. Keeping schools closed until Jan. 17 will hurt as well because parents will be forced to stay home during a labour shortage, it says.

"Nearly two out of every three SMEs are suffering from labour shortages and the absence of employees to take care of their children will increase the pressure on small businesses," the statement says.

Restaurants in Quebec can offer takeout and delivery services only under the new restrictions. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Richard Scofield, president of Rôtisseries St-Hubert restaurant chain, said 1,000 to 1,500 employees will be affected by the decision to close dining rooms as there are waitstaff, dishwashers and hosts who won't have any work.

He said the government could have handled this better than closing restaurant dining rooms with such short notice.

"This hit will hurt a lot this time," he said.

Philippe Racine, owner of Bistro St-Malo in Quebec City, said he would have liked more warning before the sudden closure.

In preparation for New Year's Eve and the following days, he purchased $6,000 worth of food.

"Everything is falling apart," he said. "It's back to square one."

The restaurant-bar Chez Stanley in Sherbrooke, Que., was already closed until Jan. 4 due to a number of COVID-19 cases, according to owner Luc Laplante.

He said he finds it ridiculous to close restaurants and he is "really afraid of losing employees" due to measures that target the hospitality industry.

with files from Radio-Canada and Kwabena Oduro

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