For Quebec bars and restaurants, threat of extended lockdown creates more uncertainty

For Michelle Ayoub, the co-owner of a downtown Montreal bar, it wasn't a surprise when Quebec Premier Francois Legault recently suggested the province's partial lockdown may be extended for a second time.

"We honestly don't expect to be reopened before March," Ayoub, co-owner of Turbo Haus, said in an interview Wednesday. Business like hers are in a "weird limbo of uncertainty."

She said she doesn't mind staying closed until the spring -- when she can serve patrons on the patio -- but what's most difficult, she said, is not knowing when she'll be able to welcome customers again.

"It is frustrating, it's tough to feel so powerless," Ayoub said. "How do I go about planning? How do I go about promoting? How do I go about doing all of our things when there's just so much uncertainty?"

On Tuesday, Legault suggested that the restrictions across Quebec's "red zones" -- which have shut bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and entertainment venues -- would likely be extended at least until around Christmas. Legault said his government wanted to maintain the lockdowns to keep the province's infection rate stable in order to allow family gatherings around the holidays.

Ayoub said the provincial government isn't entirely to blame for the uncertainty but she said she feels bars have been treated like scapegoats.

Restaurant owners are also dealing with a high level of uncertainty, Martin Vezina, spokesman for Quebec's restaurateur association, said Wednesday in an interview.

Restaurants need to know in advance when they'll be allowed to reopen, he said, because they need to buy food and hire staff. Food distributors, he added, need notice to ensure customers are supplied in time.

If restaurants in Quebec's largest cities are forced to remain closed, Vezina said, skilled workers such as chefs, may find work in other industries.

Even after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, Quebec's public health director has said it will be another nine to 18 months before the government removes all its restrictions. Mask-wearing, for instance, is here to stay for a while, Dr. Horacio Arruda told reporters Tuesday, because he said it will take months for authorities to distribute vaccines.

Even once vaccines are approved for adults, it will take longer before they are approved for children, said Dr. Christos Karatzios, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children's Hospital.

It will be "probably another four months before vaccine is starting to get distributed around the world and six months before we have data about children -- whether they can get vaccinated or not," he said Tuesday.

Quebec reported 1,179 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 35 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, eight of which had occurred in the past 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations increased by 14, to 652, and 100 people were in intensive care, the same number as the prior day.

There were 2,813 primary and secondary school students and 740 staff members with active COVID-19 infections on Monday, the last day for which data is available. The Health Department said there are 10 long-term care facilities and 14 private seniors residences in the province where more than 25 per cent of residents have active cases of COVID-19.

Quebec has reported a total of 127,233 COVID-19 infections and 6,710 deaths linked to the virus.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020.

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