Quebec will keep restaurants, bars and fitness centres closed for another month, extending the strictest pandemic measures in the country as the province tries to rein in the spread of COVID-19.
The pandemic restrictions that most of the Quebec population had to follow until the end of this month will have to be maintained until Nov. 23, Premier François Legault announced.
Quebec registered 808 new cases on Sunday, nudging the seven-day average down to 940 from 973.
While the daily increase of Quebec COVID-19 cases has stabilized, it still hovers at a level that is too high and threatens the health care system, Mr. Legault said Monday. “It’s time for the people of Quebec to close ranks. … We need four more weeks,” he said.
In Ontario, however, where daily cases rose above 1,000 for the first time this past weekend, no new measures were announced, despite Premier Doug Ford saying previously that his government was looking at whether the Toronto-area regions of Halton and Durham would face greater restrictions.
The province reported 851 new cases on Monday. Mr. Ford said he had encouraged local mayors and his own MPPs to write to the province’s top doctor to express their concerns about tightening restrictions in Halton Region, west of Toronto. Halton’s medical officer of health on Monday said trends in the region were “concerning.”
Ontario has thus far put four of the most populous regions into a “modified” Stage 2, which bans indoor dining, cinemas and gyms, for at least 28 days: Ottawa, Toronto, and two regions neighbouring Toronto, Peel and most recently York.
In Quebec, the “red zone” rules that now cover the most populous parts of the province, including Montreal, have also forced the closing of restaurants, museums, movie theatres and fitness centres.
Extending those conditions for an additional four weeks was a blow to the restaurant industry. “Prolonged closure will threaten further businesses that are already hurting,” said Martin Vézina, a spokesman for Association Restauration Québec.
Mr. Legault said his government will extend financial aid for businesses, such as a program that pays 80 per cent of fixed costs, including rent or utilities. However, many owners have yet to receive any funds because of red tape, Mr. Vézina said.
A coalition of Quebec gyms, yoga studios and martial arts schools threatened to resume operations on Thursday, but Mr. Legault said police will make sure the extended restrictions are followed. “Gyms will not reopen. There will be fines,” he said.
The Premier said Quebec’s occupational safety board will also conduct an inspection blitz to make sure workplaces respect pandemic restrictions. “We won’t hold back from issuing fines and, if there are repeat offenders, to shut down businesses.”
Also, Quebec Grade 9 students will join their Grade 10 and 11 peers in attending class just one day out of two, to reduce classroom size.
Quebec will reassess in two weeks whether the restrictions need to be maintained until the end of November.
In British Columbia, a new public-health order will bar people from inviting more than six guests into their home for any private parties. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer, also said it is now her “expectation” that anyone in an indoor public space must wear a mask.
Dr. Henry urged people across the province to recommit to staying safely apart and avoiding large private gatherings after 817 new cases were confirmed over the past three days, the most in a weekend since the virus touched down on Canada’s West Coast.
The new cases have been traced mostly to people getting sick after spending time with loved ones during the Thanksgiving weekend.
With Halloween, Remembrance Day and the December holiday season approaching, Dr. Henry urged people to gather outside and keep these events small.
Meanwhile, in Ontario, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner accused the Premier of “muddying the waters” by encouraging MPPs to lobby his own medical experts. “The Premier should not be urging MPPs to put the squeeze on health officials and make a decision that is at odds with COVID-19 data."
In a letter sent this past weekend to Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams, Progressive Conservative MPPs Jane McKenna and Parm Gill, along with local officials, said the government risks losing the confidence of the public if it doesn’t provide specific justifications for imposing new restrictions. Halton Region’s rate of new cases is down and hospitalizations remain low, they argued.
Mr. Ford said Monday he had encouraged Ms. McKenna, along with the mayor of Oakville, to put their concerns in writing.
“Elected officials have always had a say,” Mr. Ford said. “Our priority is to keep the economy going, protect the small businesses, but we also have to keep in mind the health and safety.”
Dr. Williams said he has not yet recommended that Mr. Ford’s cabinet impose new restrictions on Halton.
With reports from Mike Hager in Vancouver and Jeff Gray in Toronto
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