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Quebec tightens rules for malls, stores as new COVID-19 cases top 1,500

Province's holiday plans may be in jeopardy, says premier


By Sidhartha Banerjee

MONTREAL — The Quebec government announced new limits on the number of shoppers in stores during the busy holiday season as the province on Wednesday reported more than 1,500 daily COVID-19 infections for the first time since the pandemic began.

Deputy premier Genevieve Guilbault told reporters in Quebec City that beginning Friday, businesses will have to limit the number of people allowed inside.

Guilbault said the maximum capacity will be set depending on the store’s floor space, and that number must be clearly posted. Capacity will be determined by dividing by 20 the surface area available to customers in square metres.

The province says proper distancing and the wearing of masks must also be enforced for clients waiting in line. Enforcement will fall to mall owners and store owners, and those not respecting the rules could be subject to fines of between $1,000 and $6,000.

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Guilbault said the measures were necessary as the province reported a record 1,514 new COVID-19 cases and 43 additional deaths linked to the virus, including nine in the past 24 hours. The previous daily high was 1,480, reported Saturday.

Hospitalizations also rose by 21 for a total of 740, with one more patient in intensive care for a total of 99.

The province has now reported 145,062 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7,125 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. An additional 997 recoveries were reported Wednesday, bringing the total to 125,197.

Holiday plans in peril

On Tuesday, Premier Francois Legault said the province’s plan to allow for two gatherings during a four-day window around Christmas could be in peril as the number of hospitalizations in the province reached its highest point since June and new infections remained high.

In the province’s so-called red zones, the high number of cases prompted the government to close bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and entertainment venues beginning Oct. 1. They will remain shut until at least Jan. 11.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, said Tuesday that no outbreaks have been linked to crowded stores.

“But I think that, as (with) any crowding, people not respecting the two meters and not having masks can generate it,” Arruda said. “So it’s, I would say, a preventive measure, especially when you see the crowding in malls during Christmastime.”

Guilbault cited images of packed shops and malls as the reason behind the decree. When asked why institutions like museums can’t reopen under similar rules, she said it was about finding a balance in its measures.

“We want stores to remain open but not become a supplementary source of contagion,” she said.

The new measures were welcomed by the Retail Council of Canada, noting they were largely in line with its own recommendations to its retailers since the start of the pandemic.

“We understand that the government must give itself the tools to intervene with certain less collaborative retailers,” the council’s Quebec representative Marc Fortin said in a statement. “The health and safety of employees and consumers remain the priority of our retailers.”