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July 15, 2020 – Provincial government update on the COVID-19 pandemic

Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the Québec government in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Masks and physical distancing

During a tour of the regions, Québec Premier François Legault reiterated the importance of wearing a mask and maintaining a physical distance of two metres in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

While there are moves to denounce this as an infringement of individual freedoms, Premier Legault repeated that these two measures protect us all.

Mr. Legault stated that Quebecers will have to get used to wearing a mask in the coming months, in every region of Québec. He stated that Great Britain just declared masks mandatory in stores. France is thinking about doing so as well and Walmart has made it a rule in all its stores.

Workers to return to office buildings

The minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, Jean Boulet, announced the gradual and limited return of workers to office buildings for service-sector businesses and organizations, starting Saturday.

“This is an important step in lifting isolation,” the minister said, specifying that the “maximum rate of occupation will be 25% of workplace capacity, but that this should not be seen as a goal to strive for. “Telework is still strongly recommended,” said Minister Boulet.

Masks will be mandatory for workers in shared workspaces as well as in office tower elevators. Staff rotations will also be permitted.

Health procedure and protocol guides have been produced by the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST).

Screening and appointments procedure: an unacceptable situation

Premier Legault said he finds it unacceptable that Québec currently has the capacity to perform 16,000 tests a day, but their organization is deficient to the point that barely 10,000 tests are being performed and people are having to wait hours to get tested.

The access hours for making appointments by phone have also been reduced, which the premier finds equally unacceptable.

“I hope that this will be rectified in the next few days,” said Mr. Legault.

Discipline in bars

Premier François Legault is disappointed that staff in 35 of the 36 bars in Bas Saint-Laurent were wearing neither visors nor masks on the weekend, which contravenes health safety directives for these businesses.

“We will be monitoring the bars very closely to ensure that employees wear their personal protective equipment and that customers wear masks and respect physical distancing of two metres until they are seated,” said Mr. Legault.

Reopening closely tied to the evolution of the situation

Public Health special advisor Richard Massé said that even if there is currently an increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19, the reopening of service-sector businesses and organizations is still possible.

According to Dr. Massé, the current outbreak of cases is not leading to an increase in hospitalizations. Public Health is following the evolution of the situation, taking into account the riskiest areas of activity while permitting the resumption of activities in lower risk sectors.

Dr. Massé specified that this is the strategy that will be employed if there is a second wave of COVID-19 contagion.

Work reorganization in the health sector

François Legault is unhappy that evaluations show that emergency wait times in Québec hospitals have increased during the first two years of his mandate as premier.

“We must review how work is organized in the health sector,” he said. He added that there are staff shortages in hospitals on weekends, but too many people working on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

He stressed that 50% of people who go to emergency rooms should instead be going to private clinics or family medicine groups.

Border with New Brunswick

During his tour of Bas-Saint-Laurent, François Legault said he understands the prudence and refusal of his New Brunswick counterpart to allow free circulation between the two provinces.

“It’s the same situation for the regions in Québec where there were few cases. I understand people’s concerns. We will continue our discussions with authorities in New Brunswick,” said Mr. Legault.