Quebec acknowledges asylum seekers’ work on coronavirus front lines, unveils next reopening step

Quebec is moving forward with its next step to lift lockdown measures and the premier acknowledged the work of asylum seekers on the front lines of the novel coronavirus crisis as the death toll topped 4,000 on Monday.

Premier François Legault said during his daily briefing that shopping malls will reopen on June 1, except in the Greater Montreal area.

He called on people to maintain physical distancing and to wear masks as the province continues to ease restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“If we want to continue reopening, we must stay disciplined,” he said.

Quebec recorded 85 additional deaths on Monday, bringing the province’s death toll to 4,069 since the pandemic began. Legault said that 43 of those fatalities occurred in the last 24 hours.

READ MORE: Montreal, Laval public transit agencies hand out free masks amid COVID-19 pandemic

The respiratory illness has led to 47,984 cases, up 573 from the previous day. The province maintains the highest caseload and deaths attributable to COVID-19 in the country.

The number of hospitalizations dropped once again by 10 to 1,425. However, there are 179 patients in intensive care, up nine from the previous day.

After calls for asylum seekers to be acknowledged for their work in Quebec’s embattled long-term care homes, Legault said on Monday that the government will take a closer look at their cases “one by one” to see if they can qualify for immigration status.

“We are grateful,” he said, adding that it was the province’s way to say thank you to those working in those facilities.

READ MORE: Quebec groups push for residency status for asylum seekers on front lines

Community groups have argued the workers, many of whom live in Montreal North — a COVID-19 hot spot — are putting their lives on the line to protect Quebec’s elderly population.

Legault said discussions will also need to be held with the federal government on the issue.

“Those people, they are already working in our CHSLDs, so how can we bring them via the normal immigration process? That’s what I’m looking (at),” he said.

‘This week will be a key week’

As Montreal-area retail stores reopened on Monday and the province looks to unlock shopping malls, Legault acknowledged that other businesses such as restaurants, bars and hotels are waiting to know when they can follow suit.

He said there are discussions with public health over Quebec’s recovery plan, but the province doesn’t want to overwhelm hospitals — especially in Montreal, the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak.

READ MORE: Montreal-area retail stores reopen as coronavirus lockdown eases

“This week will be a key week,” he said, adding the province is closely monitoring the situation.

The Quebec government has also surpassed its goal of 14,000 tests per day after repeatedly missing the mark. Legault said that the province performed more than 15,000 tests on both Thursday and Friday.

“I would like to do more, even 16,000 or 20,000 eventually,” he said. “First we need to have people who are ready to be tested. We also want to focus on areas where we have more cases.”

Youths encouraged to work in long-term care homes

One of the biggest challenges remains staffing shortages in Quebec’s long-term care homes, according to Legault. Many people have come forward to help but the province is looking for more.

He encouraged the province’s youth to help out and work in those facilities, which have been ravaged by the virus.

“Sometimes we’re looking for what we want to do in life,” he said. “It is gratifying to help people who are vulnerable in CHSLDs.”

The health ministry is also going to roll out three-month training courses for people who do want to work in those facilities, according to Legault. They are expected to begin in June.

With files from Global News’ Phil Carpenter and the Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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