Premier Francois Legault is trying to keep his province united as data increasingly indicates the COVID-19 pandemic is under control across Quebec – except for in the greater Montreal area, the epicentre of the disease outbreak in Canada.
And as the province gradually reopens following weeks of shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus, Legault is pushing back against calls to isolate Montreal from the rest of Quebec.
“I heard a lot, over the weekend, from people who don’t live in greater Montreal, who are afraid that people from Montreal will come to their region,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City Monday.
He said if people stay two metres apart from each other, “there is no danger that someone from Montreal comes and infects you.”
“I don’t want Quebecers to start fighting with one another and for there to be divisions between Montreal and the rest of Quebec … We are one people.”
Legault said the COVID-19 situation in Montreal remains fragile and a reopening of retail stores, schools and daycares in the city planned for May 25 could be further delayed. But the construction and manufacturing sectors did open in Montreal as planned Monday, as they did across Quebec.
Elementary schools and daycares also reopened outside the greater Montreal area. Road barricades that had limited access to several parts of Quebec including the Outaouais and Saguenay regions were also lifted Monday.
Montreal La Presse reported that people in regions across the province had started petitions calling on Montrealers to be barred from visiting now that barriers have been lifted. Several elected officials had also made their dissent against the government’s decision known.
Legault stayed firm Monday but promised that if the infection rate in Montreal surges, he and public health officials would reconsider their decisions.
Concern about reopening Montreal was heightened by the publication late Friday of data from Quebec’s public health institute, known as the INSPQ. Its projections indicated deaths could soar to 150 a day in the greater Montreal area if lockdown measures are lifted.
“In greater Montreal, a deconfinement in the current epidemiological situation could lead to a rapid increase in hospitalizations and deaths,” the institute said.
Quebec reported an additional 85 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the provincial total to 3,013. Horacio Arruda, director of public health, said 82 of those deaths occurred in the greater Montreal area, primarily in long-term care homes.
Legault and Arruda were questioned about why the projections from the statistical bureau came out late on a Friday afternoon. Arruda had held a news conference in Montreal earlier in the day and didn’t mention the pessimistic forecast.
Arruda insisted his recommendations to the government are being heeded and he isn’t being muzzled. “To date, I have exercised my role in public health in a completely free manner,” he said.
Legault added that the statistical institute’s projections showed a worst-case scenario if the city opened up retail stores, schools and daycares – something the province has pushed back until at least May 25.
“We still have two weeks in front of us, and if the situation is not getting better in the next two weeks, we’ll postpone the opening of May the 25th,” Legault said.
“So, it means that the scenario that was shown by INSPQ will never happen. It was only a scenario if we decide to open, which is not the case.”
The total number of COVID-19 cases rose by 748 from the previous day, to 38,469. Of those cases, 9,703 are classified as recovered. Montreal has 19,492 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,919 deaths.
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