'I won't hesitate' to push back Montreal's reopening if COVID-19 crisis deepens, Premier Legault warns

Businesses in Montreal are scheduled to reopen starting May 11 and its schools on May 19 - but those dates are far from carved in stone, Quebec Premier Francois Legault warned Thursday.

If people in the Montreal area don't continue to respect public health orders and the COVID-19 crisis deepens in the coming days, "I will not hesitate" to put off the gradual reopenings, Legault said.

"If you want a deconfinement in the coming weeks, it is important to follow the instructions," Legault said. "There is no question of having gatherings. Beyond the interpretation of the laws, I ask you not to gather neighbours, friends and family."

Businesses and schools in and around Montreal, which has been the hardest hit region in Quebec since the start of the pandemic, are already scheduled to restart activities a week later than in the rest of the province.

Legault and Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, both expressed concern about recent spikes in COVID-19 cases in the Montreal North borough, as well as outbreaks of the virus at three major Montreal-area hospitals: Lakeshore General, Maisonneuve-Rosemont and the Douglas, which is a mental-health hospital.

Legault said patients at those three hard-hit hospitals would be transferred to hotels while the hospitals are deep-cleaned and disinfected.

While Legault tried to calm the anxieties and fears that have been expressed by many Quebecers at the news of the upcoming reopenings of huge parts of Quebec society, he also did not downplay the seriousness and public-health costs at stake.

""Unfortunately, we can expect, in the coming days, to have other deaths in CHSLDs, in particular," Legault said. "Before reopening businesses and schools, we must ensure that the situation is well controlled. The important word is gradually. Every day, we will look at the figures and if we realize that the pressure is too strong in hospitals, we will slow down the deconfinement."

The premier also tried to assuage concerns that politics -- namely pressure to reopen and boost the economy -- was overriding public health concerns.

"I want to reassure certain people of the independence of Dr. Arruda," Legault said of the man who has sat by his side for weeks during the premier's daily news conferences.

"I listen to him as if he was my mother," Legault mused. "I have no undue influence on him."

Opening up the province will also come with increased testing, Legault said. Quebec currently conducts about 6,000 COVID-19 tests per day, but by next week, the province will increase its capacity to 14,500 tests per day, the premier said.

There are now 1,859 people who have died of COVID-19 in Quebec, health authorities announced Thursday, as confirmed cases in the province reached 27,538.

That’s up 98 from the 1,761 deaths reported Wednesday; COVID-19 cases in Quebec rose 944 from the 26,594 announced a day earlier.

There are 1,684 people being treated for COVID-19 in Quebec hospitals as of Thursday, up 36 from the 1,648 reported Wednesday. Of those in a hospital, 214 are in intensive care, down eight from the 222 reported 24 hours earlier.

There are 1,030 people waiting for COVID-19 test results in Quebec as of Thursday, down 1,767 from the 2,797 reported Wednesday.

The number of people in Quebec who have recovered from COVID-19 as of Thursday was 6,299, up 251 from the 6,048 recoveries reported a day earlier.

With 13,324 cases, Montreal remains the hardest hit region in the province; you can see a regional breakdown of COVID-19 in Quebec here.

  COVID-19 CASES IN QUEBEC
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The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

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