Quebec restaurant dining rooms can reopen at half capacity on Monday

Quebec will allow small gatherings and restaurants can open at half capacity as of Monday as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease.

Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday that the new loosening of measures still comes with some restrictions: a maximum of four people or two bubbles will be permitted to dine together, so long as they have proof of vaccination.

Bars and casinos are to remain closed for the moment.

Legault announced that extra-curricular sports will also be permitted (maximum 25 people), but only for those 18 years old and under.

The rule applies to practices only. No games are allowed.

“We are all aware that a lot of Quebecers are fed up, they’re fed up with the restrictions,” Legault said. “It’s been 22 months. I understand that there are a lot of Quebecers for whom it’s starting to affect their mental health.”

Ski chalets are also allowed to open at half capacity.

In addition, there will be a maximum of two visitors allowed at the provinces’ private long-term care homes (CHSLDs), so long as the people visit one at a time, and at public care homes, the maximum is four, but only two at a time.

On Feb. 7, venues, cinemas and arenas will be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity with a maximum of 500 people.

Places of worship will also be permitted to reopen at half capacity with a 250-person maximum with a mandatory vaccine passport requirement.

Funeral homes can welcome as many as 50 people.

Gyms, spas and sports for adults will remain closed.

Legault spoke alongside Health Minister Christian Dube and acting director of public health Dr. Luc Boileau as he provided the update.

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Dining rooms have been closed since the end of December in an effort to curb surging COVID-19 cases. It is expected that they will be allowed to open with limited capacity.

Some restaurant and bar owners have been considering reopening in protest at the end of the month, while police in Jonquiere, Que., in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, were called last week to a bakery that had reopened its dining room.

At least one Montreal-area restaurant owner is no longer willing to wait for the official green light.

Humza Chaudhry, co-owner of breakfast and lunch restaurant Baba & Zazu in the Mount Royal neighbourhood, said he reopened his dining room a few days ago and no longer worries about the consequences.

“Enough is enough. We’re done with it,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview. “Everything is open, if we don’t open we’ll go underwater.”

Chaudhry says he’s opening his dining room to full capacity. He said that even if an official reopening is coming, he needed time to train his kitchen and floor staff and prepare them both physically and mentally for a return to work.

“It’s not like a switch that turns on and off,” he said.

The response from customers, he said, has been positive. “They feel like they’re getting out of prison.”

Other business owners said Tuesday they’re understanding of the public health needs, but they’re exhausted of the struggle to keep their businesses afloat and going through the “yo-yo” cycle of opening and closing.

“I’m glad my extended Christmas vacation is over…I’m going to open on the eighth, I’m going to play Spider-Man, Matrix, all those movies people couldn’t see,” said Vincent Guzzo, president of Cinemas Guzzo. 

“Hopefully, we’re done. In other words, I don’t want to hear of another theatre closure ever again.” 

Jean-Jacques Beauchamp, the president of the Quebec bar association, said it’s “a little disappointing” that bars aren’t yet included but “our time will come, obviously… it’s a matter of days or weeks.”

However, in total, being closed for 17 out of 22 months is no joke, he said, and what bar owners really need is not just to get the green light to reopen, but “to reopen and stay open for a long while.”

Gym owners and others voiced similar feelings of burnout.

The announcement on Tuesday is a week to the day since schools reopened in the province as part of the government’s deconfinement plan.

The province is still lacking 12,000 health-care workers and the health-care network in the province needs to be rebuilt, the premier said.

“Our health network needs, and an overhaul, and the overhaul must be built around people who work in the health network,” said Legault. 

Quebec’s Health Ministry reported Tuesday that there are 3,278 COVID-19 patients in Quebec hospitals, including 263 in intensive care wards. A week ago, there were 3,417 patients, with 289 in ICUs.

— with files from Morgan Lowrie of The Canadian Press.