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The Quebec government loosened more COVID-19 restrictions Monday, permitting small private indoor gatherings and reopening restaurant dining rooms at half capacity, after it imposed an abrupt lockdown over the holidays.

After lifting the provincial curfew and allowing in-person classes to resume on Jan. 17, the government is permitting restaurants to host no more than four people at one table, or two households, and forcing them to close at midnight.

But not everyone was quick to call back their restaurant staff.

In Old Montreal, Karam Gebran was weighing whether it was worth it financially to reopen for indoor dining.

“We haven’t fully opened our dining room yet because we’re in a district with a lot of offices,” said Gebran, co-owner of bakery Les Moulins La Fayette in the city’s financial district.

“So, I’m waiting to see if the reopening of dining will prompt people to come back to the office, too.”

Gebran said he noticed more workers in the streets on Monday compared with prior weeks. But he said he would like the government to lift its work-from-home order, at least partially. “It would encourage people to come back to the neighbourhood.”

Shaun-Francis Karch, manager of Venice MTL, said he’s been working on his own for the past six weeks producing takeout meals.

“Coming back for me is readjusting to working with employees,” said Karch, adding that while takeout orders remained steady on Monday, in-person dining wasn’t as popular.

“We don’t have a lot of clients eating on the spot; we don’t have the line waiting like we used to have.”

Karch said he’s hoping the government doesn’t shut down his restaurant again. “I’m hoping they leave us alone.”

In the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, several restaurants remained closed Monday, with posters in their windows displaying job openings.

Local resident Catherine P. Lauzon said she wasn’t worried about finding a spot to grab breakfast, noting she would use her friends’ social media posts as a guide. “Montreal is filled with people who love brunches, restaurants,” Lauzon said, all smiles before entering restaurant Au Pain Perdu.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 33 additional deaths attributed to COVID-19 on Monday. The Health Department said 2,888 people were hospitalized with the disease, a drop of seven patients from the previous day, and 223 people were in intensive care, a decline of 10.

Quebec also reported 2,423 new COVID-19 cases, but authorities have warned that official case numbers are not reflective of the situation because PCR testing has been limited to certain higher-risk groups.

Also Monday, extracurricular sports resumed in elementary and high schools, junior colleges and universities, with the vaccine passport required for students 13 and over. The government also allowed Quebecers to start hosting small gatherings in their homes again – up to four people, or two family bubbles, can gather indoors.

The second phase of Quebec’s reopening plan is set for next week, with places of worship and entertainment and sports venues allowed to reopen Feb. 7 with capacity restrictions.

An association representing spas says its members can’t afford to miss out on the lucrative Valentine’s Day business and called on the government to include them in the Feb. 7 reopening list.

In a statement, the Association quebecoise des spas said Quebec is the only province where Nordic spas remain closed, and it called the decision arbitrary and unjustified. It said its members have been closed between 10 and 12 months since the beginning of the pandemic 22 months ago.

With files from Graham Hughes and Virginie Ann in Montreal.

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