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Quebec Premier Francois Legault, wearing a protective mask, walks away following a news conference in Montreal, on May 15, 2020.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Quebec will move forward with plans to restart non-essential surgeries and allow stores and daycares in the Montreal area to reopen as the province reported its lowest number of COVID-19 deaths in over a month.

Premier Francois Legault said the 34 deaths registered between Sunday and Monday marked the lowest number since April 12. New cases, at 707, remained roughly stable.

More importantly, he said more than 600 health-care workers have been able to return to work after being sidelined due to the pandemic, meaning the system is now better prepared in case of an eventual surge in patients linked to deconfinement.

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He said the news was good enough to allow stores in the Greater Montreal area with a door to the outside to open May 25 as planned.

Daycares will be allowed to open June 1, as planned, although Legault warned parents that capacity would be reduced by about 50 per cent and there wouldn’t be room for every child.

Legault admitted that there are risks to allowing retailers to reopen, and warned that Quebecers needed to continue to respect health directives such as maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks in public.

“The situation, the trend is good and allows us to take a certain gamble,” he said. “And to win that gamble, I need the collaboration of all Quebecers.”

The province had originally planned to reopen businesses in Montreal on May 11 and daycares and elementary schools on Monday.

But while plans moved ahead elsewhere in the province, Legault eventually cancelled the rest of the school year for Montreal elementary students, and pushed back the dates for daycares and businesses in the city that has become the hot spot of the pandemic in Canada.

Health Minister Danielle McCann said the province was planning to gradually resume some medical services that had been paused due to the pandemic, including 68,000 postponed surgeries.

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She said different regions would likely resume at different paces, and that Montreal would likely be slower to return to normal.

McCann said a new e-mail address that allowed health workers to anonymously denounce their working conditions had garnered 836 messages of concern on topics including promised bonuses, personal protective equipment, testing, short-staffing and transfers between hot and cold zones.

“Believe me, these are situations that will be responded to quickly,” she said.

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