Ontario, Alberta announce reopenings as Quebec delays school start in Montreal


Even as much of Canada took more steps toward resuming normal life on Thursday, with announcements on reopening national parks and provincial economies, Quebec moved in the other direction by partly pushing back its plans to get students back in class.

Ontario announced it would lift restrictions on some retailers, seasonal businesses and medical procedures next Tuesday, while Alberta began implementing the first phase of its own relaunch with the reopening of stores, daycares and museums.

In contrast, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that elementary schools in the Montreal area would remain closed for the rest of the school year, saying conditions had not been met to reopen as planned on May 25.

Daycares, which had been scheduled to open the same day, will now remain closed until at least June 1, while businesses will be allowed to open as scheduled only if conditions improve in the Montreal region.

Quebec has more than half of the country's COVID-19 cases, with over 40,000 infections and 3,351 deaths as of Thursday. The province has already opened schools and stores outside Montreal, but Legault said the situation in the city remains ``fragile.''

``We know the situation remains under control outside Montreal, but it remains fragile here,'' Legault said during a visit to the hard-hit city. ``We've concluded that the conditions are not met to reopen elementary schools in the Montreal region.''

 In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said some national parks and historic sites across the country would reopen June 1 for select activities, including trails, day use areas and green spaces.

At his daily briefing, Trudeau noted that the coming May long weekend would look different this year due to the ongoing shutdowns and distancing restrictions.

``But this isn't forever,'' the prime minister added.

``Canadians have been doing the right things these past many weeks, and that's why we can announce some good news for the weeks ahead.''

Since the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 sent the country into lockdown in mid-March, all national parks and historic sites have been closed, with visitor services and all motor vehicle access suspended.

Trudeau said the choice of which parks would be allowed to open would align with the decisions of provincial and local governments.

The gradual reopenings are to be accompanied by measures designed to ensure the safety of visitors and workers, he said.

In order to protect vulnerable communities, Trudeau said all pleasure boating will be banned in Canada's Arctic coastal waters, as well as those in northern Quebec and Labrador, starting June 1.

Alberta, meanwhile, began implementing the first phase of its relaunch strategy, with retail stores, hair salons, museums, daycares and day camps allowed to open, with restrictions. Restaurants and cafes can also reopen but only at half capacity.

The reopenings apply across the province, except in Calgary and Brooks, which have higher infections numbers and will have to wait until May 25.

Ontario revealed it is set to enter its first stage of reopening next Tuesday, including lifting restrictions on some seasonal businesses, low-risk workplaces and medical procedures.

In a document released Thursday, the province said working from home should continue as much as possible.

All construction can resume and limits will be lifted on maintenance, repair and property management services, such as cleaning, painting, and pool maintenance.

Most retail stores that have a street entrance can open with physical distancing restrictions, as can golf driving ranges and some sports activities.

Some scheduled surgeries will resume, as well as in-person counselling such as psychology or addictions counselling.

Although Ontario's caseload has been trending downward, the province's chief public health officer, Dr. David Williams, said earlier this week it's not falling rapidly enough yet to allow for first stage reopenings.

Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia have all taken some tentative first steps toward reopening their economies. But Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon have not yet lifted restrictions.