As the region slowly reopens, public transit authorities and local officials in Montreal and Laval are handing out thousands of free masks to commuters in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The measure comes as an effort to encourage people to wear the face coverings while out in public and on public transit, where keeping a two-metre distance, as recommended by public health officials, is difficult.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the initiative is important because it gives the city the ability to provide masks to people who may not otherwise be able to acquire one — even though masks are not obligatory.
“I don’t want Montreal to become a police state,” she said. “That’s not what I’m looking for. I want people to take their responsibility and to be disciplined, and they are doing so.
“So I want to encourage them and make sure nobody is left behind because they don’t have access to a mask.”
The Greater Montreal area, the region hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, is the last in the province to reopen retail stores. Quebec is also relaxing other rules as it looks to emerge from the health crisis, including permitting day camps to operate and reopening other kinds of businesses next month.
As a result, Quebec’s public health department and the premier are urging people to wear masks when they leave the house. The province has donated one million masks to Montreal, the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Canada.
The Quebec government is also giving $6 million to buy masks for transit users in Laval and Montreal.
As people head back to work, the chairperson of the Société de transport de Montréal, Philippe Schnobb, said masks were first distributed at Metro stations in the hot zones in the city. The public transit authority is expecting to hand out more than one million masks, he added.
“I see more and more people wearing a mask in the metro and buses,” he said. “Eventually the exception will be not wearing a mask.”
One of those people is Guy Denis, who was boarding the Montreal Metro on Monday morning. He said he noticed a lot of commuters are starting to wear masks — but many still aren’t following suit.
“It’s necessary, I think,” he said.
The mayor of Laval, a city located north of Montreal, said that most commuters have responded positively to the initiative and agree to don the masks. Marc Demers said that the measure is important to protect the health of commuters and their families.
“We rely on people’s judgement, and people, most of them, agree to wear it and have a safe way of doing things so that’s important,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and the Canadian Press
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