Video shows 250 Quebecers playing bingo in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

As thousands of Quebecers stayed home over Thanksgiving weekend, others went to the casino. The Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu community bingo hall hosted 250 people on Friday, all vying to win a prize of more than $100,000.

The event should have been cancelled, according to Quebec’s health ministry.

“In the orange zone, the regulations provide that all activities organized in a public place [indoors and outdoors] must be limited to a maximum of 25 people,” said Marie-Helene Emond, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

“Sporting events are limited to 25 people, including bingo."

In cases where social distancing is not possible, face coverings should be worn, the ministry said. Masks can be removed once people are at their table. 

Patrol officers from the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu police visited the hall on Friday and didn't intervene. Bingo management says the space between the tables is enough to keep two metres distance between players.

HR Community Bingo says public health has mischaracterized their establishment.

“There is a misunderstanding,” said Christian Hache, Chairman of the Board of Directors of HR Community Bingo.

“Public Security considers us to be a gaming house, so we are entitled to 250 people. Public Health spoke more of a grouping in a community hall.”

He added that “when you play bingo, people don't move. They stay put and do not talk to each other. There is no contact between people,” he said.

The ministry explained that it sees bingo as a "leisure activity" and that it can't be likened to a meeting or a group of people seated in an auditorium, hence the 25-person limit in orange zones.

One public health expert said that the video of the event showed it was risky.

"Individuals are mingling around, people are going to what looks like a coffee station," said Dr. Leighanne Parkes, an infectious diseases specialist at the Jewish General Hospital. 

"We know a lot about covid and how it transmits, and we know that the more people you put into an enclosed space where you have poor ventilation without adequate physical distancing, and without adequate barriers like masks, the more likely you are going to have a super-spreading event."

Hours before the gathering, Quebec's premier had broadcast a stern warning about socializing in groups.

"My message before the long weekend is loud and clear," Premier Francois Legault said. "Stay home with the people you live with. Resist the temptation to see your friends and family."

PLAYERS CAME FROM EVERYWHERE

The event was so popular that the organization decided to close its doors to new visitors shortly after 6 p.m. 250 people were inside. The 14,000-square-foot room can hold around 500 people.

Most players were seniors, and therefore more at risk of developing serious health problems as a result of the coronavirus.

“We categorically refused all the people of Brossard, Montreal, Chambly and Longueuil [in the red zones],” said Hache.

“There are a lot of people who were upset that they were turned down. We had a few threats on Facebook saying that we had no right to refuse people.”

The event brought together 11 gaming halls from across Quebec, which explains the size of the grand prize, worth a little over $100,000.

The bingo hall will be holding its last activities this Thursday, since the whole of Monteregie will officially go into the red zone on Friday. About 5,000 people pass through the building each month.

All profits from the hall are donated to community organizations in the area.

- With files from Benoit Chevalier from Bell Media

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