Quebec reports more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for first time since May

MONTREAL — Residents of Quebec's two biggest cities could soon face more restrictions, Premier Francois Legault said Friday as his government attempts to control a second wave of COVID-19.

Health officials reported 1,052 new COVID-19 cases Friday, the first time since early May that the province reported more than 1,000 infections over a 24-hour period.

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The rise in new cases, which brings the total number of confirmed infections in the province to 76,273, came one day after the government placed the greater Montreal area, Quebec City and a region south of the provincial capital under a partial lockdown for at least 28 days.

Authorities consider those three regions to be in red alert, which is the highest pandemic alert level. For the second day in a row, Legault described the situation in the province as critical.

"If there was anyone who still needed proof that the situation is critical, we have it day after day," he said.

More restrictions could be imposed as soon as Monday, when the province plans to announce new rules for sporting activities and gyms.

The provincial government also announced $50 million in new funding for live theatre, music and other performing arts companies that have been affected by the pandemic.

Cultural organizations, art promoters and producers, as well as performers who put on their own shows, will be eligible for funding intended to compensate 75 per cent of lost ticket revenue between Oct. 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

That time period, Legault said, reflects the reality that theatre companies and other venues hire staff for a full season and that the lockdown could last longer than 28 days.

The funding comes after theatres, concert halls and other performance venues were ordered closed as part of the partial lockdown in the three red zones. The money will be available across the province and is intended to compensate artists affected by both the closures and limits on audience size that are in effect in other parts of the province.

Recipients of the money will have to guarantee they will use a certain amount of it to pay artists and support staff, Culture Minister Nathalie Roy said Friday.

Meanwhile, Quebec provincial police said they would begin an "awareness" operation on Friday afternoon aimed at discouraging people from travelling for non-essential reasons from red zones to neighbouring regions under lower alert levels.

Such travel is not currently banned, but officers will be stopping drivers on highways to educate them about the importance of reducing contact with others, police spokesman Sgt. Louis-Philippe Bibeau said.

Outdoor and indoor private gatherings have been banned in red zones, while bars have been ordered to close and restaurants can only open for takeout and delivery.

Legault acknowledged Friday there has been confusion regarding the new restrictions, but he called on Quebecers to stay more than two metres from people they don't live with.

"Don't ask yourself how to get around the rules, ask yourself how to keep your distance," he said.

Police have been authorized to issue fines of up to $1,000 to people violating the regulations and can use a "tele-warrant" system to obtain warrants to enter private homes more rapidly if they suspect the rules are being violated.

Seven new deaths were reported on Friday; however, none of them took place in the preceding 24 hours. Six of those deaths occurred from Sept. 25-30, and one occurred before Sept. 25. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 5,857 people have died in Quebec, more than half of the total COVID-19 deaths in Canada.

There are now 302 people in hospital for COVID-19, an increase of 27 from the previous day, and 49 people are in intensive care, an increase of three.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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