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Reporter Debrief: COVID-19 Cases Tick Up In Quebec, Premier Threatens A Lockdown

Quebec City in fall
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Quebec City, where there's been a recent outbreak of COVID-19. The Quebec Premier Francois Legault is threatening to bring back a lockdown if the province's citizens don't follow health guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault gave his citizens a warning: If they don't follow health guidelines, he may re-impose a lockdown. That’s as case numbers of COVID-19 in the province have crept upwards over the past few weeks.To get the latest on the pandemic situation in the Canadian province to our north, VPR’s Henry Epp spoke to CBC reporter Ben Shingler. Their interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Henry Epp: Case numbers have dropped significantly from the highs of the spring in Quebec, so what does this increase right now look like?

Ben Shingler: Yeah, they definitely have in the last few months gone down considerably from the height of the pandemic in April and May. I was just looking back this morning at the numbers and at that time we had, some days, a thousand cases a day. And then through the summer, it dropped down considerably to the point where we were under a hundred cases a day for a lot of the summer.

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But they've crept back up in the last week or so, above 100. And so, yeah, the premier this week… he sort of issued a warning. I think he wanted to make sure people, as students go back to school, he wanted to make sure people "stay vigilant," was the term he used.

And there have been a few outbreaks happening around the province, including one in Quebec City, right?

That's right, yeah. There was one kind of high-profile one that we're still looking into today involving a karaoke bar. These are open, karaoke bars. They've been open for a little while. And what happened was, the mic was being passed around and people were singing very closely together, and as I'm sure you know, singing is one of the ways that you can spread this virus.

So singing in close proximity, sharing a microphone, not a good idea. The health minister was visibly upset when he was talking about this outbreak.

So there's 30 cases linked to it now, and there's concern that it might spike further in Quebec City, where for the most part, we haven't seen too many cases, most of them have been in Montreal. So we're still looking at that now, and I think there's a lot of people going to be getting tested in Quebec City in the coming days.

Well, you mentioned that schools are coming back into session. Has that led to more cases among students and teachers so far?

It's too early to say, really. Some schools went back last week, and this week everyone is back in school. They are going back full-time. Not all parents agree with this. So some people are choosing to keep their kids home, and there's a court challenge actually saying they should be allowed to keep their kids home, because it's actually required that you put your kid in school unless you have a doctor's note.

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And then the rule is that kids grade five and up, they have to wear a mask in situations where they can't social distance. But in the classroom, they can take it off once they're in sort of a controlled environment. So… there's a lot of criticism about the plan: Is it strong enough? Is it strict enough? You know, people are going to be watching really closely over the next few weeks and hoping that all goes well.

The border with the U.S. has been closed since March. Have you noticed any difference in Montreal or around the province in terms of not having Americans come over or the border being closed? Is there any impact there?

Yeah, there is. I mean, you do notice, certainly it was a quiet summer. You know, Montreal is a summer of festivals… a lot of those moved online. They've now allowed gatherings of 250 people, but those you have to maintain distance. So there's no, like, giant jazz fest, like you would have seen, and people from Vermont and elsewhere come down for that.

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But, yeah, it's much quieter. And I was actually just on the on the mountain the other day, Mount Royal. And, you know, it usually is filled with tourists. It was really quiet. It was quite nice, actually, but it was way quieter than usual. So it's a very different feel.

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