'Not acceptable': Quebec could close bars again if health rules not followed, minister warns

Quebec will ensure a police presence around bars in major urban centres and won't hesitate to close down bars amid the COVID-19 pandemic if public health measures are not followed, the province's health minister said Monday.

Christian Dube was responding to media stories about bar patrons, staff and owners not respecting distancing guidelines in particular.

For example, people who tested positive for COVID-19 and who visited a crowded bar on Montreal's South Shore may have exposed more patrons, the region's health services board warned this weekend.

'What I have seen in the past few days is not acceptable," Dube told reporters in Montreal Monday.

"We won't let another weekend go by with the kinds of scenes we saw," Dube added. "We can only look to the United States to see what's happening there," Dube said, regarding the increase in cases witnessed in several southern states that reopened bars, restaurants and beaches.

Dube said new measures will be announced later this week to deal with the issue of people flouting public health orders.

He said the government is considering increasing the presence of police around places where people gather, such as bars and nightclubs. He added Quebec is also studying measures such as further limiting the occupancy of some venues and operating hours.

Dube spoke directly to bar owners and operators -- as well as those who run other places where large number of patrons can gather -- and warned that it is up to them to manage the situation in their establishments.

"Your responsibility is to ensure that public health directives are complied with," Dube said.

Quebec's health minister threatened owners of bars and other venues across the province on Monday, saying he won't hesitate to shut them down if COVID-19 public health directives are not followed.

The South Shore bar and restaurant at the centre of this weekend's news, the Mile Public House, noted Monday the infected patrons hadn't yet been diagnosed when they visited and they didn't catch the virus at the restaurant.

On Monday, Dr. Julie Loslier, a regional health director, told Radio-Canada that some of the cases at the bar were tied to a cluster of 20 cases on the South Shore.

Dube called the rule-breakers "a minority of offenders" but said they wouldn't be allowed "to endanger Quebec's health and recovery."

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said his biggest concern is about small outbreaks around the province that could cause the number of cases to rise before the arrival of what he expects will be a second wave of infection in the fall.

"It's clear if there are places where there are outbreaks we cannot control and there is transmission, we will have to do intervention," Arruda said. "It could be regionally, it could be specific, or it could be a complete shutdown of this sector, which is something we're not looking for, and why we're asking people to respect things."

Arruda said he didn't regret opening bars -- among the last establishments to reopen in Quebec -- saying most owners have applied the rules and most patrons have respected them. But he said he isn't above being the bad guy when it comes to closing down businesses.

"I'm telling you, if people don't do what is supposed to be done, because it's not only your life but the life of others (at risk), I will be a bad boy," Arruda said.

-- The Canadian Press contributed to this report

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