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A worker looks out the window at the Vigi Mount Royal seniors' residence, in Montreal, on May 1, 2020.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Quebec is easing restrictions on residents in long-term care homes hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After months of being cooped up, residents of facilities that do not have active COVID-19 cases can now receive visitors inside, meet people outdoors and participate in group activities.

They are also allowed to leave the facilities unaccompanied and remain out for more than 24 hours. Beginning next Friday, volunteers and hairdressers will also be allowed inside the facilities.

Seniors and their families are breathing “a huge sigh of relief,” said Vanessa Herrick, executive director of Seniors Action Quebec, an advocacy group for English-speaking seniors in the province.

“They’ve had a really difficult, really scary last few months, both families and seniors – and they’ve had to sort of deal with it on their own,” she said.

Ms. Herrick said family members provide much-needed care in Quebec’s chronically understaffed long-term care facilities, known as CHSLDs.

The new measures come as Quebec continues to see its numbers of new cases and deaths remain relatively low. On Friday it reported an additional 167 COVID-19 cases and 35 new deaths – 30 of which occurred before June 11 – bringing the provincial totals to 54,550 cases and 5,375 deaths.

More than 64 per cent of the deaths in the province have been in long-term care facilities.

A lack of trained staff and personal protective equipment contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19 inside the facilities.

Quebec recently launched an accelerated training program for 10,000 orderlies who will be deployed in the homes by September.

“What we’re dealing with is a massively understaffed system and people who really need a lot of support,” Ms. Herrick said. “Having family members in there who can advocate for them, who can make sure that they’re eating … it’s absolutely critical.”

The government also said Friday that in CHSLDs with active COVID-19 cases, residents in COVID-free units will be allowed to eat in communal dining rooms as long as physical distancing rules are in place.

Judith Goudreau, a spokesperson for the regional public health agency in Laval, just north of Montreal, said Friday that visitors have already started coming to the CHSLDs to see their loved ones.

Laval has five long-term care homes, Ms. Goudreau said, but one still has active COVID-19 cases and will not allow visitors yet. Safety measures are being put in place at the four facilities that are COVID-free.

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