Bring back road blockades, say towns in Laurentians after weekend packed with red-zone visitors

It was quiet—at least today—in the town of Morin-Heights, in the Laurentians.

But if you ask locals what it was like last weekend, they’ll say that’s when they reached their tipping point.

“Cars everywhere,” said Robert Gauthier, a local mechanic who’s lived in Morin-Heights all his life.

“For us, a little town, it was so busy we had a hard time to cross the road to go to the village part.”

The town’s mayor agrees, and now he, along with some neighbouring towns, is calling on the province to reinstate the same kind of road blockades and checkpoints that were in place last spring, to limit traffic into the area.

Morin-Heights is currently an orange zone under Quebec’s COVID-19 alert system, unlike Montreal and the surrounding areas, and Mayor Tim Watchorn said he wants it to stay that way.

“It’s better to restrict now a little bit than turn red and close down completely for the holidays,” said Watchorn. “That would be a disaster.”

Last weekend, when temperatures suddenly soared, brought the issue to a head, he said.

“I haven’t seen traffic like that in town since the last big ski weekend before the pandemic,” said Watchorn. “It was crazy.” 

Premier François Legault dashed Watchorn’s hopes on Thursday by saying the province isn’t considering it, but he did specify that that’s the policy right now, without making a blanket statement about the future.

“That’s not something that we’re looking [at],” Legault said. 

“We think that it’s not necessary at this point.”

Many in nearby towns have voiced the same request recently, including in Sainte-Adele and Saint-Sauveur.

It’s not just about whether people should have a chance to get out of the city, they argue.

Gauthier, the mechanic, says the problem is how many people are visiting from red zones specifically to take advantage of services that haven’t yet closed in orange zones.

“People are just coming in here to get food and [to] drink at the bar,” he said.

Of course, this kind of travel is not recommended. The province has asked people in red zones not to travel to orange, yellow or green zones.

“The problem is that it’s just recommendations and there’s no enforcement,” said Mayor Watchorn. “So there’s nothing forcing people not to come here and go out to a restaurant.” 

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