Gatineau retailers react to first day of lockdown
For the third day in a row, the Outaouais region set a new record for a single-day increase of COVID-19 cases.
It comes as Gatineau begins a 10-day lockdown period, enforcing an 8:00 p.m. curfew and preventing indoor shopping and dining.
Elementary and secondary schools in the city are also closed.
"It certainly is concerning," said Dr. Matthew Oughton, Assistant Professor of Medicine at McGill University and infectious disease physician.
"This surge in cases seems to be driven by these more transmissible variants and these variants are more infectious," he added.
For local retailers, the shutdown comes at an inopportune time.
"Last year, in April, we lost 30 to 40 per cent of our business, easily. I think this year it will be even worse because there’s more people running, more people into it, so I think it’s going to affect us a little more," said Alain Poirier, owner of La Foulée Sportif.
Poirier says he’s had customers calling all day, wondering whether or not he’s closed or why they can’t shop in his store.
"I think this time of year people want to go out, they want to try on their stuff before spending the money and the fact that they won’t be able to do that will be an impact on us," Poirier said.
One concern among businesses is that customers may choose to travel to Ottawa, where looser restrictions allow for some indoor shopping.
"I don’t want to say, 'Oh my customers are going to go there.' Maybe...If they really want to go out and shop in the store they’ll go," said Marc Gagné, co-owner of Le Local.
Gagné says his fashion boutique has focused on their online presence amid the pandemic; something he says has helped keep their customer base during lockdowns.
"It’s like owning a secondary store, another retail address almost, you I just have to be there as present online and trying to offer the same experience online as in the store," Gagné said.
Dr. Oughton says the concern people will cross the provincial border is a valid one, both financially and epidemiologically.
"It’s very tempting for people to want to go to a place where they can have a little more liberty," Dr. Oughton said.
"The risk is if you have a higher prevalence of the disease in the Gatineau area compared to Ottawa, it doesn’t take much for these easily transmissible variables to tip the balance," he continued.
Oughton says more should be done to restrict travel between Ottawa and Gatineau
"Ottawa and Gatineau are so closely linked for many services that that restriction itself is not something that’s easy to do but if you can’t achieve that then certainly I think there’s a very real risk of seeing spillover of cases, in particularly cases driven by these more infective variants coming into Ottawa," he noted.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has asked residents not to cross the provincial border. It’s a message Gatineau residents are hoping the curfew will reinforce.
"I don’t think anyone from Ottawa should come here either and I think that’s what (Premier Francois) Legault’s whole purpose of shutting us down and putting in a curfew, it’s going to stop people from Ottawa coming over," Gatineau resident Deborah Hale said.
Hale says she hopes the lockdown will lift on April 12, when it’s scheduled to end. However she expects the new restrictions may be in effect even longer.
"Somebody had to put the foot down and it’s a pandemic so just abide by the rules and we’ll get through it," Hale said.