Quebec says private-sector offices can reopen at one-quarter capacity on Saturday
By Sidhartha Banerjee/The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Quebec will allow private-sector employees to head back to the office in an effort to revitalize the struggling downtown cores of the province’s major cities.
Labour Minister Jean Boulet told a news conference Wednesday businesses can begin bringing back up to a quarter of their employees to the office starting Saturday.
The province is strongly recommending, however, people continue working remotely if possible, he added.
Boulet said remote working is difficult for some people, while for others, in-person transactions are necessary.
“It’s also a question of economic vitality for a downtown, particularly in Montreal, to allow people to return to work in their offices as far as it is done in a safe way and in compliance with the sanitary guidelines,” Boulet said.
Mask-wearing will be mandatory where physical distancing is not possible, such as in elevators and common areas.
Dr. Richard Masse 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 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,” Masse said.
Authorities can lock down specific parts of cities if outbreaks occur, rather than reconfining the entire province, he added.
“We’re going to focus on places where transmission happens, but there are other measures that apply across the board,” he said. Employees who are exhibiting COVID symptoms or who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, he said, should not go to work or frequent public places.
Chantal Rouleau, the minister responsible for the Montreal region, said the gradual re-entry of office workers will help revitalize the city’s struggling downtown sector. “It’s very difficult at this time,” she said.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business welcomed the decision, saying the future survival of many businesses depend on workers heading back to the office.
“This is a first step towards the profitability of businesses whose income depends mainly on the high traffic of business people, tourists, conventioneers, festival-goers and students,” the organization said in a statement. “In fact, downtown Montreal has five times more workers than people who live there.”
Meanwhile, Quebec reported three new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, for a total of 5,636. The province also reported 129 new cases of the novel coronavirus, for a total of 56,859, of which 26,097 are considered recovered.
The number of people in hospital went down by 10 patients compared with the prior day, for a total of 285, including 20 patients in intensive care, a reduction of one.
Public health authorities said Wednesday they are trying to increase testing capacity in Montreal after they requested over the weekend that anyone who had visited or worked in a bar since July 1 to get tested for COVID-19.
Montreal public health reported Tuesday it had identified at least 30 confirmed cases tied to nine different bars in the city.
Masse said the public health department is trying to test 200 people per hour at Montreal’s Hotel-Dieu hospital, whose walk-in clinic has been inundated. “It takes some time to mobilize human resources moved elsewhere in the health system,” Masse said.
On Monday, the last day for which data is available, the province performed 9,952 tests. Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday the province has the capacity to conduct up to 16,000 tests per day.
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