Quebec green lights reopening office buildings at limited capacity amid COVID-19 pandemic

Quebec is allowing a gradual return to the office for employees who work in private-sector businesses starting Saturday amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Labour Minister Jean Boulet announced the measure on Wednesday, saying employers and workers had shown their resilience and ability to adapt to changing circumstances over the past few months.

Workplaces will be allowed to operate at 25 per cent capacity beginning this weekend after public health authorities gave the green light, according to Boulet.

“I wish to say right off the bat, this is the maximum,” Boulet said, referring to the cap.

READ MORE: Quebec ombudsman backs mandatory masks as petition calls on province to cancel rule

Businesses should continue to favour a work-from-home policy when possible, he added.

“Telework is still strongly recommended for activities that can be carried out at a distance,” said Boulet.

As part of the plan, workers are still required to follow public health guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. This includes maintaining a two-metre distance from others.

Masks will also be mandatory in all common areas in offices, including kitchens and elevators.

Dr. Richard Massé of Quebec’s public health department said he was confident bringing workers back is safe to do, despite a recent rise in the daily number of COVID-19 infections in Montreal.

“We are really sure that opening the services in downtown Montreal is something that is safe, that can be done and it’s not something that creates a risk,” he said. Authorities can lock down specific parts of cities if outbreaks occur, rather than reconfining the entire province, he added.

READ MORE: Montrealers line up for coronavirus testing as bars remain source of concern in Quebec

Chantal Rouleau, the minister responsible for the Montreal region, says the gradual re-entry of office workers will help revitalize the city’s struggling downtown sector.

The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal’s president welcomed the announcement, saying reopening office towers is “good news for everyone” but stressed more needs to be done to support downtown.

“We remain very concerned about the downtown situation,” said Michel Leblanc in a statement. “Governments must do everything to make the downtown area lively, safe, easily accessible and attractive to Montrealers and Quebecers.”

Quebec recorded 129 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday for a total of 56,859 since the health crisis first began.

Authorities say three more deaths were recorded from the previous day. The province’s death toll stands at 5,636.

The number of hospitalizations has dropped by 10 to 285. Of those patients, 20 people are in intensive care.

2:12 Montreal COVID-19 infections triple in the last week

Montreal COVID-19 infections triple in the last week

With files from Global News’ Olivia O’Malley and the Canadian Press

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

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