QUEBEC — Citizens should stay away from funerals, weddings, baptisms and any religious gatherings including receptions during the COVID-19 crisis, the Legault government announced Monday.
Sample-tasting counters in grocery stores are also off limits and you are being asked to keep a safe distance from workers at the Société des alcools, cannabis and other stores that remain open even as Quebec continues to accelerate measures designed to slow the advance of the coronavirus in the population.
We apologize, but this video has failed to load.
Nobody can say if Quebec is winning the battle — as of Monday afternoon, Quebec had 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — but the province also announced first compensation programs for the thousands of people who have seen their daily routines disrupted in what is a province-wide health emergency.
At the second of two Quebec City press conferences, Premier François Legault joined with Finance Minister Eric Girard and Labour Minister Jean Boulet to announce Quebec is creating a new program (known as the Programme d’aide temporaire) for employees who must self-isolate but are not eligible for employment-insurance benefits from Ottawa.
These Quebecers will be eligible for up to $573 per week for two weeks of self-isolation. The details of the program will follow Thursday, but the money will be available on presentation of a passport and airline tickets proving the workers have been outside Quebec.
“The program we are announcing today will act as incentive to people affected by the isolation rules,” Legault said. “Above all I do not want people taking the risk of going to work for financial reasons when they should not.”
Boulet said as many as 65,000 Quebecers will be eligible. Total cost if they all come forward would be $150 million.
But Legault seemed none too pleased when asked about reports of employers playing hardball with workers going into isolation by insisting on doctor’s notes or that the time be deducted from vacation days.
“I’m asking companies for their cooperation,” Legault said.
The other good news from Girard is that Quebec and Ottawa are in talks about the April 30 income tax deadline, a situation that is doubly complicated for Quebecers who fill out two forms, one provincial and one federal.
“There’s the act of filing your income tax return and then there’s the question of paying your taxes if taxes are due,” Girard said, suggesting the governments may allow the humble taxpayer more time to write a cheque.
And Legault said he was extremely pleased with the response from retired health-care workers who have massively responded Yes to the government appeal they rejoin the workforce for the duration.
“To see 7,000 people said I am ready to help, frankly, today I am proud to be a Quebecer,” a beaming Legault told reporters who — like other citizens — have complied to new rules requiring them to sit a metre apart even at a news conference.
But Legault reminded Quebecers that “each act counts to avoid our health-care system from overflowing in the coming weeks.”
He made an appeal for Quebecers to continue giving blood as usual despite the coronavirus scare.
Quebec has also stepped up its game in trying to correct the many problems Quebecers are still experiencing, such as long waits on the phone to talk to someone with Info-Santé.
Present for Legault’s news conference, Health Minister Danielle McCann said 55 more nurses are being trained now and will be added to the pool of those taking calls by Thursday. McCann also urged Quebecers with routine questions about coronavirus to stay off the phones and consult the detailed section on the health ministry’s website, which is in English.
And McCann announced Quebec is opening seven more testing sites at the following establishments: the McGill University Health Centre, CHUM, Saint-Justine, Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont, CHU de Québec-Université Laval, CHUS Sherbrooke and Jewish General Hospital.
Quebec wants to increase testing capacity from 1,600 a day to 6,000 a day.
“We are going to rapidly remedy this situation,” McCann said.
For the first time, Legault and Quebec public health director Horacio Arruda also addressed the delicate issue of funerals at a time of social distancing. Overwhelmed by COVID-19, Italy, for its part, has banned all funerals and weddings.
“We will suggest that if you’re sick, you don’t go to funerals,” Arruda said. “And if it is possible, express your caring for the family using the internet and phone. It would be a bad situation to have 150 persons crowded in a funeral home.
“It’s going to be the same thing for weddings. It’s going to be the same thing for receptions associated with those things.”
The government later issued a directive saying all religious assemblies, funerals, baptisms and weddings, ideally are suspended for now and those that do happen have to respect social distancing rules.
In response, the association of Quebec’s 500 funeral directors, the Corporation des thanatologues du Québec, issued a statement saying it will continue to hold small funerals using strict hygiene rules and social distancing but is eliminating receptions and buffets.
Mourners, it said, can express their sympathy without touching by putting their hands on their hearts or nodding.
Families can delay funerals, too. Legally, a funeral home can keep a body up to 30 days before showing it. Sixty days is also possible, but the body must be embalmed.
Quebec’s dentists and chiropractors have also started cancelling non-urgent appointments.
Arruda also recommended parents keep an eye on their teenage children who, in their boredom, might be tempted to organize basement parties with large numbers of friends.
That would be especially bad if some of the youth had travelled overseas lately. He said social distancing rules should be applied.
“Maybe what would be needed would be to place soap and Purell next to your teenager’s beer,” Arruda said. “And I would not recommend what I would call any exchange of bodily fluids at this time.”
Legault also said he is pleased Canada is closing its border to non-residents during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Note to readers: We know the speed and volume of coronavirus-related news is overwhelming and a little frightening. To help with that, we are synthesizing the most important coronavirus-related news, especially as it relates to life in Montreal and Quebec, in real time. Follow our live updates here. All our coronavirus-related news can always be found here: montrealgazette.com/tag/coronavirus.
Sign up for our new email newsletter dedicated to local coronavirus coverage here: http://montrealgazette.com/coronavirusnews