Quebec extends halt on non-essential activity until May 4, province approaches 8,000 cases

Earlier Sunday, Montreal closed Île Notre-Dame amid concerns over outdoor gatherings

Jonathan Montpetit
 · CBC News · Posted: Apr 05, 2020 8:32 AM ET | Last Updated: an hour ago

The Quebec government said it will extend the business shutdown until May 4. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The shutdown of non-essential economic activity in Quebec will last at least another month, and won’t end on April 13 as the provincial government originally hoped.

Premier François Legault said that with the number of new cases of COVID-19 continuing to rise, Quebecers should expect businesses to remain closed until May 4. 

“If we relax our efforts, we’ll just delay the moment when we’ll be able to go back to our lives,” Legault said Sunday at the government’s daily news conference in Quebec City.

“The battle is far from over. In fact, we’re entering the decisive phase of this battle.”

Public health officials announced 947 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total to 7,944. Percentage wise, that’s one of the lower daily increases over the past two weeks. 

Hospitalizations also appear to be increasing at a weaker rate than earlier in the crisis. But 19 more people have died from causes related to the disease, bringing the total number of deaths in Quebec to 94.

Legault said that as long as the number of new cases continues to increase, the government’s priority will remain protecting the public’s health, even if it means enforcing measures that are painful for businesses.

The province is likely still several weeks away from hitting its peak number of cases, Legault said. Only after that will his government consider relaxing its strict physical distancing policies. 

“We put all our effort in the public’s health because we needed to allow the health-care system to get ready to handle the first wave,” Legault said.

“I’m looking forward to getting over that peak. That’s when we’ll begin looking at what businesses and organizations to re-open.”

Preparing for the post-COVID economy  

In an effort to ease the pain of a longer lockdown, the Quebec government revealed details of an ambitious buy-local program called Panier Bleu. 

Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, who accompanied Legault at Sunday’s news conference, compared the initiative to an Amazon-style inventory, which will allow Quebecers to find products made in the province and buy them directly from retailers.

Grocery stores were closed across the province on Sunday. (Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada)

“It’s an approach to unite communication channels to allow our small businesses to compete with corporations that have huge marketing resources,” Fitzgibbon said.

It is part of an effort to use the coming months to re-tool the Quebec economy, and make it better adapted to life after COVID-19.

The long-term goal, said both Legault and Fitzgibbon, is to make the provincial economy more self-sufficient and less dependent on imports.  

They described the global marketplace, post-crisis, as one where supply chains will continue to be unstable and free-trade increasingly rare. 

Legault said his priority will be making both the health-care industry, which is struggling to find supplies abroad, and the agriculture sector more autonomous. 

More powers for police to fine people, Île Notre-Dame closed 

The prospect of a longer shutdown, and continued physical distancing, will not be easy for many Quebecers to swallow, especially as the weather continues to warm. 

Scores of people flocked to Montreal’s parks on a sun-filled Saturday, despite public health directives against gatherings, be they inside or outside. 

Police cadets keep an eye on physical distancing in Parc La Fontaine on Friday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Montreal city officials were concerned about the large numbers of people in the parks. On Sunday, the city announced it was closing one vast green space — Île Notre-Dame — and shutting the parking lot at another, Mount Royal Park.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante urged people to use the parks and green spaces closer to home to get fresh air. 

In Sherbrooke, Que., a security guard at a Walmart was allegedly run over by a 25-year-old man who police say was irate at the store’s physical distancing measures. 

The guard remained in critical condition on Sunday. Authorities say the suspect is likely to be charged with armed assault with a vehicle, aggravated assault and committing a hit-and-run.

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