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Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks to reporters during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 24, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec will present its plan to reopen the province next week, but Premier Francois Legault says older, at-risk people will still need to be kept at a safe distance from others, even from loved ones.

Mr. Legault has spent the past few days priming Quebeckers for the gradual reopening of the economy, but said Friday that the risk of infection to older Quebeckers remains high.

“Unfortunately, I do not advise people who are over 60 to hug their grandchildren – still for a while,” Mr. Legault said. “I know it’s hard, it’s sad and we will be able, in the next few weeks, to see each other two meters apart … but to hug children (isn’t advisable), especially because we want to reopen our schools gradually.”

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Mr. Legault said his biggest fear in reopening schools is when those children will visit relatives.

“We must protect people over 60, 70 years of age,” Mr. Legault said. “There are real risks – going as far as death – if they catch COVID-19, so it’s to protect them that we do it.”

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, recognized the sacrifice being asked of older Quebeckers. The goal is not to deprive older people from their family members, he explained, but to ensure they have many more years of happy family moments to share.

“It’s like a natural impulse to take them in our arms,” Dr. Arruda said about hugging grandparents. “But, at the same time, what we want is they can take them in their arms as long as possible.”

On Friday, Quebec published a how-to video on homemade masks and said it would begin mailing pamphlets on the subject. Dr. Arruda said masks will be recommended in instances where physical distancing isn’t possible, including on public transit.

“We’ll test every week to see if we are not going too fast,” Mr. Legault said. “We are not talking about opening next week, we are talking about a plan to reopen over many weeks.”

Quebec reported 97 more deaths linked to COVID-19 Friday, bringing the provincial tally to 1,340, with 22,616 confirmed cases of the virus.

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But Mr. Legault said the official numbers of people in hospital and in intensive care – 1,460 and 227 respectively – are inflated because doctors are keeping older patients who have recovered from the virus in hospital rather than returning them to long-term care homes.

Long-term care homes are facing serious COVID-19 outbreaks and they remain heavily understaffed. Mr. Legault called on Friday for Quebeckers to apply to work in those hard-hit facilities, even if applicants don’t have training or experience in caregiving.

Unable to find enough people to meet the staffing needs, Mr. Legault said the province will relax the requirements in order to fill the shortages. Chosen applicants will be paid the wages of a service assistant, which is $777 per week.

Mr. Legault said he hasn’t ruled out the province eventually taking over private long-term care homes and bringing them all under provincial jurisdiction.

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