Quebec’s health minister defended his government’s decision to go further than public health recommendations by shuttering restaurant dining rooms in regions hard-hit by the second wave of the pandemic earlier this fall.
Christian Dube told reporters Thursday in Quebec City that a public health proposal to keep restaurants open to family groups was not practical, adding that he’s confident the decision to end restaurant dining saved lives.
“Look at all the countries, all the provinces that have made the same decision as us with regard to restaurants and then to bars, I’m glad we made that decision,” Dube told reporters. “I know it’s difficult, but I think we made the right decision.”
Dube said it’s important to remember the context: case numbers were soaring at the end of September, and the situation has deteriorated even with dining rooms, bars, gyms and entertainment venuesclosed since Oct. 1 in the province’s biggest cities.
“Where would we be today if we hadn’t closed the bars and restaurants?” Dube asked. “We have 1,842 cases (reported Thursday.) We have hospitalizations that are on the rise.”
On Wednesday, public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda told a legislature committeethe decision to order restaurants dining rooms to close in so-called red zones with high infection rates was not based directly on a recommendation from his office.
One of his advisers told the committee that health officials had recommended allowing restaurants to stay open, but only to groups of family members dining together.
Opposition parties seized on Arruda’s comments to decry a lack of transparency in the Legault government’s pandemic decisions.
“That is the issue, we can’t compare notes, we can’t compare what public health is saying versus what the government is saying,” Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said.
Dube said the public health recommendation wasn’t to keep them restaurants unconditionally — there were many restrictions and strict distancing measures.
“And restaurants and owners have said: ‘No, we don’t want that, we cannot be profitable, we would rather close than getting this recommendation,’ ” Dube said.
But for an association representing Quebec restaurant owners, Arruda’s comments Wednesday stung. They’ve long argued that restaurant dining rooms, closed until at least Jan. 11, are safe and called on the government to ensure a reopening of their establishments.
“We now know officially: the decision to let our dining rooms close is a government decision,” the Quebec Restaurant Association said in a statement. The government “will no longer be able to hide behind the supposed recommendations of public health to close our dining rooms,” it said.
In addition to the 1,842 new cases, the Health Department reported 33 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, including eight in the previous 24 hours. The number of hospitalizations increased by four to 848, with 113 patients in intensive care, eight fewer than a day earlier.
Montreal set a daily case recordwith 648 new infections, and six other regions reported more than 100 new infections.
Dr. Mylene Drouin, Montreal’s public health director, said there is extensive community transmission and expressed particular concern about outbreaks in long-term care and seniors residences.
Drouin urged employers to allow people to telework as much possible in the coming weeks and noted schools across the province will also switch to distance learning next week ahead of the holidays.
She said a more complete lockdown, as some academics have called for, is a lot to ask of the public.
“If we close everything, sometimes we make the population do gatherings that . . . are illegal, so we want to create more places that are less at risk, where people can do activities,” Drouin said.
“It is difficult in the context like Montreal to ask the population to stay home for two or three weeks in an apartment.”
The province has now confirmed 158,310 COVID-19 cases and 7,382 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Montreal has accounted for 3,688 of those deaths, as well as 55,908 confirmed COVID-19 cases.