Quebec Premier François Legault announced today “with a heavy heart” (as he put it), that the provincial government is placing the Greater Montreal Region (including Laval and the South Shore), the Quebec City region and the Chaudière-Appalaches region on Code Red due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. This takes effect midnight on Wednesday (early morning Thursday) and means:

  • A ban on home gatherings (with a few exceptions)
  • Bars and casinos must close
  • Restaurants must be takeout or delivery only
  • Movie theatres, libraries and museums must close
  • Houses of worship and funeral homes will have a 25 person limit
  • Being less than two meters apart will be prohibited
  • Masks must be worn at demonstrations

It’s interesting to note that schools will remain open. According to Legault, this is so parents can still go to work. As such, businesses like hair salons and hotels will remain open.

This time of year, the world’s largest comedy festival Just for Laughs is normally in full swing in Montreal (and we’re generally knee-deep in coverage). We knew a few months ago that 2020 would be different, with the festival officially pushed back to the fall.

Today JFL announced that the entire event will take place over two days, October 9th and 10th, and be entirely online. This is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the surrounding uncertainty over what type of event they would be able to run, given the heavy presence of international talent usually relies on.

“With no precise indication of when borders will reopen, and faced with soaring demand for high-quality digital comedy content, we’ve made the decision to move our festival online,” JFL President Bruce Hills said in a press release, “while always maintaining our focus on the excellence of our offerings – an excellence that is recognized and appreciated throughout the world.”

Just for Laughs is still sorting out the details, but so far we know that this year’s festival will consist of comedy performances, panels, conversations, gatherings and events. They promise to do their best to recapture the feel of the in-person festival as much as possible and that most of the festival will be free to virtually attend.

While the English event will be 100% virtual, its sister festival Juste pour rire will offer a combination of in-person, pre-recorded and virtual performances. According to Charles Décarie, President and CEO of the Just For Laughs Group:

“More than ever, we want to maintain our position as an industry leader by creating innovative comedy events that allow our artists to work and to make the highest-quality comedy available to the public. Despite all the changes our industry has been going through, the most important thing for us is to satisfy our festival-goers. We’re sparing no effort to present the best festival possible, while respecting the health measures that are in force.”

For more information: hahaha.com

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 is ravaging the United States and the European Union and other countries are slowly easing their lockdown restrictions as doctors, epidemiologists, paramedics, and other essential workers scramble to get it under control.

As a member of the immune-compromised I have been extremely careful. I haven’t been to a store, restaurant, or bar in months, and I don’t let anyone in my home unless they wash their hands, remove their shoes, and keep two meters apart during their visit. When I go out, it’s always straight to a car and to a private home where I am extra careful to minimize physical contact and wash my hands regularly. When I’m in any public space, however briefly, I always wear a mask.

That said, while it is highly unlikely that I have COVID-19, it’s not impossible. I am having flu-like symptoms that started with a mild sore throat and a little chest congestion.

After mulling it over, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself tested yesterday. If you’re having any cold or flu-like symptoms, have been to a bar recently, or come in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested too.

Not sure how? I’m here to help.

This article is about how to get tested for COVID-19 in Quebec and what to expect. I hope you’ll be encouraged to at the very least get assessed to see if being tested is necessary. We’re all in this together, so let’s keep each other safe and informed.

First step is to call one of the Quebec government’s COVID-19 information lines, depending on your region. Not sure if you should get tested? Tell the phone operator and they will transfer you to a nurse who will assess you.

If she thinks you need to get tested for COVID-19, she will ask you for your postal code, find the nearest test center, and book you an appointment that best fits your schedule. You will also need to provide your phone number, Medicare number, and email address.

You should get an appointment confirmation by email almost immediately. You can also expect to get multiple reminders by text message in the day or two before the appointment. They will give you the option of cancelling your appointment online.

While it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do, I will say that it is better to know one way or the other than to not know if you have COVID-19, so keep that appointment.

Bring a mask with you and be prepared to wait in line outside the test centre. The one closest to me was at 5800 Cote des Neiges in Montreal, in a sort of construction trailer in the parking lot of the Jewish General Hospital. Every once in a while someone in full mask and protection gear will come out and ask if anyone has an appointment. If you do, they will call you in.

Once inside, you are immediately required to put on a fresh mask and sanitize your hands. Then you are sent to a waiting area with chairs divided by walls to ensure social distancing.

You’ll feel a bit like a sideshow display, but it’s comfortable. The ambiance of the test centre feels like the pop up lab the government set up in the movie ET and you will be required to sanitize your hands nearly every step of the way.

After a few minutes, the worker who called you in will sanitize the phone allowing you to speak to the administrator who is protected by a wall with a window, not unlike the setup in some prisons. You are required to press your Medicare card to the window for the admin worker who will register you, which includes confirming your email address and emergency contacts. They will ask if you’re ok getting a negative result by email as well.

You are then sent back to the waiting area. I cannot vouch for wait times, as I know they vary, but I was called in less than thirty minutes.

A nurse in full protective gear will then bring you to a room near the exit. Another nurse similarly dressed will be seated at a computer and will ask you questions about travel, who you have been in contact with, and what your symptoms are. They will then give you a sheet with a number you can call if you don’t get your results in two to five days and your file number.

If the results are negative you will get an email. If they’re positive, expect a phone call.

Then the dreaded moment comes: the nurse asks you to lower your mask below your nose, holds out a giant flexible swab, and tells you to tilt your head back.

You know that expression “Mind if I pick your brain”? That’s exactly what the test itself feels like. You think that swab can’t possibly go further up your nose, that there simply isn’t room, and yet it does.

However, the test is quick, and the nurses are as gentle with administering such an uncomfortable test as can be. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the swab is out and you’re free to go with your information sheet and instructions to self-isolate for five days.

You are warned that the phone call when and if it comes will say “Private Number” in your caller ID and won’t leave a message. A healthcare worker will then instruct you to sanitize your hands immediately before you go out the exit. You are then free to go home to self-isolation.

That said, if you are having any symptoms resembling a cold, flu, or sinus infection and/or have been anywhere or in contact with anyone that puts you at risk of catching COVID-19, get yourself tested. The comfort of knowing one way or the other far outweighs the speedy discomfort of the test itself.

We’re all in this together. Stay safe, stay sane, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Featured image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Effective immediately, Quebec bars must stop selling alcohol at midnight and all patrons must leave by 1am instead of staying open to the normal 3am. They must also limit capacity to 50% of what is indicated on their liquor permit.

Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé made the announcement today alongside National Public Health Director Horacio Arruda. He pointed to the 130 new COVID-19 cases, an increase, as well as an outbreak that happened at a bar in Brossard on the South Shore of Montreal as reasoning.

The government is also asking bar owners to take down the names and phone numbers of customers who visit so Public Health can call them if someone who tested positive was in the same bar they were at the same time. This is a voluntary registry, and a seemingly ad-hoc one at that for the moment, but Dubé isn’t ruling out making an official version.

Police will be stationed in high traffic areas to make sure bars are following the new rules. Dubé said it will be easier than going into each establishment to ensure social distancing.

Both Dubé and Arruda said that this approach also serves as a reminder that despite the nice weather and deconfinement, the pandemic is not over.

UPDATE: The Quebec Government has reversed its decision to only release data weekly and will instead continue to release it on a daily basis.

Yesterday, the Quebec Government announced that it will no longer be publishing daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths as it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. They will still be collecting data but only releasing it to the public on a weekly basis.

Today, at a press conference in Montreal, Quebec’s National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda assured reporters that the data will still be looked at on a daily basis and if there was urgent information that needs to be communicated, it will be. Also, if the numbers start rising, they will go back to daily updates.

Arruda also announced the deconfinement of most of the remaining sectors of the economy. Bars, amusement parks, casinos, spas, water parks and hotels can now re-open while festivals and other large events, overnight camps and combat-related sporting events cannot.

Arruda stressed that these businesses must impose social distancing restrictions, in particular the two-meter rule. He also encouraged wearing masks as much as possible and didn’t rule out reconfinement if COVID numbers spike.

There will undoubtedly be some changes in how some businesses operate. For example, Arruda mentioned that bar patrons will need to remain seated as much as possible and not move around, much like restaurants, so probably no dance floor either.

Even though the 30th Edition of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival won’t happen until June 2021, MainLine Theatre hopes to remain engaged with the community during these difficult times. With that in mind, they are planning This Is Not a Fringe Festival.

“Just because we’re pressing the pause button on the Fringe doesn’t mean that we can’t gather. I’m looking forward to encouraging artists and audiences to connect in new and exciting ways,” said MainLine’s Executive and Artistic Director Amy Blackmore about the upcoming festival.

In the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, this online socially distanced art festival will take place from June 11-21, 2020. Full programming, which will include micro-dance videos, storytelling events, theatrical parties, community art projects, mail-in art and more – will be announced on June 1.

For more information, please visit montrealfringe.ca

Small outdoor gatherings in backyards or parks will be permitted in Quebec as of this Friday, May 22nd. They can have no more than ten people who come from a maximum of three households

Quebec Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault, sitting in for Premier François Legault at the government’s daily COVID-19 briefing, made the announcement and stressed that we were not at the stage where parties and indoor gatherings could start up again. While she understands that, in some cases, guests may go indoors to use the washroom or change a baby, she urged people to not move indoors as a group when it gets late and colder, instead people should head home.

Guilbault also said that people who don’t live together need to maintain two meter distance from each other at these gatherings and urged people to wear masks when not at home as much as possible. This change may be reversed if a new outbreak happens and is Quebec-wide.

Home healthcare providers province-wide will also be able to resume operations as of June 1. Same for personal care businesses such as hair salons everywhere in Quebec outside of the Greater Montreal Area and Joliette.

Guilbault said that a re-opening date for personal care businesses in Montreal and Joliette will follow. Non-essential retail businesses not located in shopping malls or with a private street entrance will be allowed to re-open in the Greater Montreal Area this coming Monday, May 25.

Watch the full press conference with Guilbault and National Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda

Montreal will be temporarily converting 327 kilometers of city streets into what the city is calling the Safe Active Transportation Circuit. These will last throughout the summer and possibly into the fall, depending on the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment efforts.

At a press conference this morning alongside Éric Alan Caldwell, the Executive Committee member in charge of mobility, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante spoke of a bike ride she took down Christophe-Colomb Avenue with her kids. Despite few cars on the street, cyclists and pedestrians were all crammed together trying to respect social distancing guidelines.

According to Plante, this plan will increase the space available to pedestrians and cyclists and allow them to travel while respecting the two meter rule. It will link parks, residential streets and commercial arteries and encourage people to shop and enjoy nature locally as much as possible.

Plante noted that businesses will benefit because there will be more place outside for people to line up two meters apart as pedestrians and cyclists pass by. She also said that this plan will allow for more terrasse space for restaurant and bar patrons to spread out if and when the provincial government allows those type of businesses to re-open.

When a reporter asked Plante if pulling back some of the regulations that limit drinking alcohol outside, the Mayor said that while alcohol regulations aren’t under municipal jurisdiction, it’s always good to think outside the box.

Caldwell stressed that the city took into account bus and truck delivery routes when planning this circuit. While admitting it will limit car travel with less space available to vehicles, both he and the mayor pointed out that there are fewer cars on the road already due to the pandemic.

Here’s the video the city released:

Quebec Premier François Legault is in Montreal today. Speaking alongside Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Quebec’s National Director for Public Health Horacio Arruda, Public Health Regional Director Mylène Drouin and Transport Minister François Bonnardel, he announced that Montreal-area schools won’t re-open until the fall.

Primary schools across Quebec, excluding the Greater Montreal Area, re-opened on Monday, with Montreal expected to follow on May 25th provided COVID-19 numbers were dropping on par with World Health Organization criteria for deconfinement. With over 20 000 people infected, they aren’t and Montreal has become Canada’s epicenter for the virus, so it will be late August and September before any schools re-open here.

Pushing re-opening back a few weeks only to close them when the school year ends mid-June would have made no sense according to Legault. Daycares that don’t run on the same school year may re-open June 1, provided Coronavirus containment conditions are met.

Non-essential retail businesses not located in malls or in malls with a separate street entrance in Montreal could possibly re-open on May 25th as planned. That date may, of course, be pushed back.

When they do re-open, though, there will inevitably be more people using public transit. Legault announced that Quebec will assist Montreal in providing masks for commuters, which Plante welcomed.

The Premier and his colleagues have been recommending people wear face coverings whenever they leave their home for a few days now, and in particular when they ride public transit. While they won’t rule out making masks mandatory on transit at some point in the future, we’re not there yet.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic due to the Corona virus aka COVID-19. Montreal is not only the epicenter of the outbreak in Quebec, but in all of Canada.

In a move that Montrealers have been begging for since Quebec Premier François Legault announced his harebrained idea of reopening the province on May 11, he has agreed to delay reopening schools and businesses in Montreal until May 25, 2020, and only if the situation here has improved. The decision was made in consultation with Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s National Director of Public Health.

Parents in Montreal can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as reopening too early would only lead to a resurgence of the disease that would overwhelm hospitals already overworked and rapidly reaching capacity. David McLeod told this reporter that if elementary schools did reopen in Montreal on May 19 as planned he and his wife would not be sending their son:

“If we did it would be a prison we would be sending him to, not a school. It is a place for people to park their kids.”

Wendy, a mother with diabetes, had also decided to keep her son at home, declaring that he is not a guinea pig for the government. She worries that her son would pass the virus on to her with fatal results.

Parents were not the only ones worried. Educators in Montreal, who agreed to speak to me on condition of anonymity, were deeply concerned about the health, sanitation, and logistical nightmare of reopening the schools and daycares.

“It takes the whole summer for administration to organize class kits and teacher schedules. It’s not as simple as putting a teacher in a room with 8-15 kids,” said an elementary school teacher. “The school buses usually have 60-80 kids and now they’ll be only 12 kids on one bus…will there be enough busses for everyone?”

She expressed concern that keeping a two meter distance from students would make it harder for teachers to help them, adding that the problem would be worse for kids with ADHD.

A Montreal high school teacher expressed concern that Legault’s plan lacked clarity. She countered the Premier’s claim of reopening the schools for students’ mental health by pointing out that kids have more freedom of movement if they stay home. She also says it’s still not clear whether teaching high school has to be face-to-face or if content can just be posted for students to look at at their own speed.

“Lucy” a daycare educator, told me her loved ones were terrified of her going back to work. The stress of staying clean and safe scares her too, comparing a return to work to “going to war with no gun”.

“Mary”, another daycare educator thinks even reopening Montreal on May 25th is ridiculous.

“You know there’s been an outbreak in a daycare, right?” she said, referring to the recent COVID-19 outbreak at a daycare in Montreal North. “We will be wearing visors at my daycare. Can you imagine a child coming in after months and meeting a monster with a blue face and visors? I don’t see how this will not be damaging to the child,” she said.

As a member of the immune-compromised in one of the hardest hit boroughs in Montreal I have my own worries about what reopening schools will mean for my personal safety. I live within walking distance of two elementary schools, one high school, and one school for students with special needs.

My chronic medical conditions put me on the “Most Likely to Die from COVID-19” list, thus making leaving my home incredibly unsafe until the virus is contained. Reopening the schools would make it more likely that I could fall victim to the pandemic, and with hospitals overcrowded, there’s no guarantee I’d get the help I need.

Even former Montreal Canadien Georges Laraque sees the absurdity of the Quebec government’s initial decision, and though he himself has COVID-19, he was live streaming about his experience in our health care system from his hospital room.

Some parents are calling the change of heart a lot more sensible. Others think Legault’s initial plan of reopening Montreal was a business-oriented decision that showed the lack common sense people have come to expect from his government.

Whatever the reason, Montreal can at least be thankful that common sense has prevailed and that active resistance works. We just have to be loud enough.

Schools and non-essential retail businesses across Quebec are re-opening today, except those in the Greater Montreal Area. While schools in the 514, 438 and 450 area codes are on track to re-open in two weeks, Montreal-area businesses will not re-open on May 11th as planned, but May 18th.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced during the government’s regular COVID-19 briefing today that he was pushing back re-opening Montreal because Montreal-area hospitals were getting crowded. He noted that there are still beds available in Quebec’s largest city and coronavirus epicenter, but not enough to re-open in a week.

This decision comes amid a rise in virus transmission in Montreal Nord. Legault said that there is not enough leeway in Montreal to deconfine as planned as there is in other regions of Quebec.

He also updated his original two world view. Now, Legault says there are three Quebecs: inside seniors’ residences, Montreal and everywhere else.

Re-opening the manufacturing and construction sectors are happening as planned, even in the Greater Montreal Area.

With pretty much every major Montreal summer festival either cancelling for 2020 or rescheduling until the fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we can happily report that the Fantasia International Film Festival will take place this summer with only slightly different dates (August 20 – September 2). The only other difference is the festival will take place entirely online.

No, this doesn’t mean that the internationally famous destination genre event will be making this year’s films available for on-demand streaming. Instead, they’ll be replicating the in-person cinema experience as much as possible through Festival Scope and Shift72’s virtual screening platform.

If you buy tickets to a movie premier that starts at 8pm but log on at 8:15pm, you’ll miss any trailers or intro material offered as well as the beginning of the film. They’ll also be limiting tickets to a number comparable to the capacity of the venue that would have, under normal circumstances, played host. The event will also be geo-restricted to Canada.

The security of the platform will allow Fantasia to still offer global premiers. This approach will also mean they can avoid having to compete with other major film festivals that usually run in the fall.

They will also offer as many Q&As with special guests as possible. It won’t be completely the same experience as in years past, but it will be as close as possible to it given the current public health restrictions.

Fantasia runs August 20 – September 2, 2020 and is still accepting submissions, so we don’t have a lineup yet, but we will announce it when we do. For more: fantasiafestival.com

Quebec will be re-opening some parts of its economy during the month of May. The province, at this point, will not be relaxing social distancing rules imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic overall and will impose new regulations on businesses when the re-open.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced the plan in general at the government’s daily press briefing before passing it over to Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade with the details. So far there are three sectors re-opening:

  • Retail Stores: Retail businesses that are not located inside a shopping mall or businesses inside a mall but with a separate entrance will be allowed to open on May 4th across Quebec with the exception of the Greater Montreal Area and on May 11th in Montreal and its surroundings. Stores will remain closed on Sundays until May 31st.
  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing businesses across Quebec can open May 11th. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees working per day can re-open with full staff. Those with over 50 daily employees can open with 50 employees plus half the remaining staff. On May 25th, manufacturing businesses can open with full staff regardless of the size of the staff.
  • Construction: Construction businesses across Quebec can re-open May 11th.

Legault repeated remarks he made yesterday when talking about re-opening some schools as a justification for re-opening parts of the economy with COVID deaths and hospitalizations still on the rise. While situation is still dire in seniors’ residences, the population overall, excluding that sector, has been flattening the curve.

No word yet on when sit-down restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses where social distancing could prove difficult may re-open. The government did say that they will be making other announcements at later dates.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced that Quebec will be re-opening primary schools and childcare services across the province but excluding the Greater Montreal Area on May 11th and then in Montreal and the 450 area codes on May 19th. High schools and post-secondary education institutions will only re-open for in-person classes in the fall as most currently offer online courses.

In his daily press briefing on Quebec’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Legault stressed that attendance will be optional and urged children with health issues or children of parents with health issues to stay home. He also noted that this plan will only go into effect if Quebec’s Coronavirus numbers continue on their current trajectory.

In the past 24 hours, Quebec reported 23 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, 84 new deaths and five fewer people in intensive care. Legault noted that most of the increase is happening in seniors’ residences, which is the focus of the province’s fight against the pandemic.

Legault said that it’s like we’re living in “two fifferent worlds” when comparing long-term care facilities to the rest of Quebec society. This is how the government is justifying opening up parts of society a bit.

Legault said that re-opening schools is for societal reasons as well as to prevent kids with learning disabilities from being away from their teachers for too long. The premier stressed that “heard immunity” wasn’t a principal reason behind the move.

Tomorrow Quebec will announce its timetable for re-opening businesses.

Yesterday, the Quebec Government requested suspending all public cultural and sporting events across the province until August 31st in order to keep fighting COVID-19 through social distancing. Following the request, Evenko announced that Osheaga, Île Soniq and the new country music festival LASSO won’t take place in Parc Jean-Drapeau late July and during August as originally planned.

“We are truly saddened by this situation, but everyone’s health must remain our top priority,” evenko President and CEO Jacques Aubé said in a press release. “It is too early to specifically announce the status of each of our events. We want to take the time to properly think about each of them and evaluate our options. Of course, we will do everything we can in order to minimize the impacts of this decision on all parties involved, by trying to postpone events, when possible.”

evenko now says it is in “solution mode” and will announce the fate of these events as soon as they work that out. They had already announced months ago, before COVID-19 was a concern, that their other festivals Heavy Montréal and 77 Montréal would be taking a break in 2020. Now we’re waiting to see if the other festivals will do the same or if they will be rescheduled, fully or in some form.

We previously learned that the Montreal Jazz Fest, Francofolies and Fringe Festival won’t happen this year and that Just for Laughs has been moved from July to late September/early October. This request by the Quebec Government, in effect, extends a municipal Montreal decision to cancel all festivals, public events and sporting events until July 2nd. is

It is clear that even if we flatten the curve and social distancing restrictions are loosened and things get back to something that resembles normal, summer in Montreal will look and feel very different this year.

Featured image from Osheaga 2019 by lamyazpixels

Last week, the Montreal Fringe Festival, the Jazz Festival and Les Francofolies all announced that their 2020 editions were cancelled and earlier today the Montreal Grand Prix announced it wouldn’t happen in June. They’re now not the only May and June events cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of Montreal announced today that all festivals, sporting events and public events are cancelled until July 2nd. Even if Quebec succeeds in flattening the curve and non-essential businesses are allowed to re-open May 4th as currently planned and more social distancing rules are relaxed in the subsequent weeks, June will look much different in the city known in the summer as Festi-Ville.

This not only means that there won’t be any outdoor concerts or bike races, but there also won’t be any Saint Jean Baptiste or Canada Day celebrations, at least not official ones. Whether or not people will be allowed to celebrate on their own, either at private parties or on Mount Royal, depends entirely on how well we do flattening the curve.