Opposition questions Quebec government COVID-19 relaunch plan as National Assembly sits anew

The Quebec government's plan to reopen the province amid the COVID-19 pandemic was under scrutiny Wednesday as the legislature resumed sitting after nearly two months away.

The National Assembly has not seen an in-person sitting since March 17, and it resumed gradually Wednesday with physical distancing measures in place and a small number of the usual 125 members of the legislature taking part in question period.

Quebec has already begun opening up areas outside greater Montreal that have been less affected by COVID-19, but Liberal health critic Andre Fortin questioned the speed of the province's plan when compared to such places as Ontario and New York State, which he said have presented clear benchmarks.

While the Coalition Avenir Quebec government has put off the reopening of schools and businesses in Montreal until at least May 25, Fortin said the government's strategy remains unclear.

"And right now it seems to us that we are navigating the waters without a plan," Fortin told reporters ahead of question period. "We don't really know where we are going, we don't really know what the criteria are in Quebec."

Interim Parti Quebecois Leader Pascal Berube noted that Quebec, which makes up 23 per cent of the population of the country, accounts for 60 per cent of the national COVID-19-related deaths.

In New York State, Berube said, a 51-page guide was published detailing how reopening will be triggered when measurable criteria -- rates of deaths, infections, hospitalizations, availability of beds and intensive care spots and contact tracing measures -- are in place.

Berube said the New York plan includes specific criteria for testing capacity and hospitalization rates.

"A real deconfinement plan is more than a list of dates, it is a detailed sequence with specific criteria that trigger the steps," Berube said. "I still have no idea of the objective, quantified and measurable criteria that are being used by the premier when he makes the decision to deconfine Montreal or another region of Quebec."

The hearing was the first for new Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade, who was acclaimed to the post this week.

Anglade noted 3,113 people have died in Quebec, the equivalent of a small municipality being wiped off the map.

In her first question to Premier Francois Legault, Anglade asked why Quebec's situation was so dire compared to other provinces.

Legault said the situation in Quebec's long-term care homes, known as CHSLDs, has had a huge impact on the number of Quebec's COVID-19 fatalities, and he promised a reform to the network.

"Unfortunately, for several years, we have been short of staff in the CHSLDs, and therefore ill-prepared to deal with this pandemic," Legault said.

The flag on the legislature building is flying at half-mast, in memory of those who've died due to COVID-19 in the province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.

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