Bars across Quebec will have to operate at half-capacity and close earlier than usual starting Friday, the province has announced as it seeks to prevent potential COVID-19 outbreaks.
At a news conference in Montreal Thursday, Health Minister Christian Dube did not give examples of delinquent venues, but he said the surge in infections across the United States linked to bars made him nervous.
He said the government wants to be proactive and prevent the potential spread of the virus.
“I prefer to be more prudent than regret over the next few weeks and few months that we didn’t do the right thing,” Dube said.
He referred to the fact the province reported 137 cases of COVID-19 Thursday – the highest number since June 19 – but said his decision to restrict access to bars was not linked to the new numbers.
As of Friday, bars and nightclubs can no longer sell alcohol after midnight and are limited to 50 per cent of their legal customer capacity. Customers will need to leave the premises by 1 a.m.
Dube added that police will be out in higher numbers, and inspectors will be deployed to make sure bars and nightclubs follow the new rules.
“We need everyone to work together on this, including bar owners and their clients,” he said.
There have now been 5,609 deaths related to the novel coronavirus in Quebec and 56,216 COVID-19 cases, of which 25,616 are considered recovered.
Renaud Poulin, president of the Corporation des proprietaires de bars, brasseries et tavernes du Quebec, said the government has not provided the aid needed to help bar owners weather the financial impact of the pandemic.
He said hundreds of owners could be forced to shut down their businesses if the new restrictions remain in place for more than two weeks.
“If it lasts a week, it’s OK. If it lasts two weeks, it’s livable … But the more the weeks go on, the harder it will be,” said Poulin, whose organization represents 1,200 bars across the province.
Bar owners from Quebec’s outlying regions have called to voice their concerns about the new measures, Poulin added. “They don’t have any cases (of COVID-19), but they’ll be penalized like everyone else. They think it’s really unfair,” he said.
Dube said he knows bar owners are not happy. “But this is a compromise,” he said. “We said from the beginning that health is the priority.”
He also said the government is encouraging bars to collect personal information from their customers to help with contact-tracing in case an outbreak occurs.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a non-profit that advocates for business owners, said the restrictions are better than a complete shutdown.
The group called on the government to do more to help the venues withstand the pandemic.
“It is essential that these measures stay progressive, that the control carried out by the authorities is just and rigorous, and finally, that more action is taken to help these businesses,” the group’s Quebec vice-president, Francois Vincent, said in a statement.
Toby Lyle, co-owner and founder of Burgundy Lion Group, which owns three pubs and two restaurants in Montreal, said he was disappointed the province imposed blanket restrictions instead of going after individual bars that have flouted the rules.
“The vast majority of us try to do a really good job to make sure that we’re being as safe and sanitary as possible,” he said. But he said he understands that the government needed to do something.
Reducing opening hours and capacity will mean employees across his five locations will lose a combined 500 to 600 paid hours each week, Lyle said.
Like Poulin, he hopes the new restrictions won’t last long. “We cannot risk being in this situation for the next six months where we’re not fully open,” he said.
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