MONTREAL — The Quebec government isn't ruling out a return to school and daycare for the province's youth before the summer.
Premier Francois Legault made the comment Friday during a daily briefing by Quebec authorities on the COVID-19 epidemic in the province, noting promising results in the past few days are fuelling some optimism, but stressing that nothing is etched in stone.
Schools and daycares currently are slated to be closed until May 4.
"As soon as we'll reach the peak and start to decrease the number of cases and the number of people in our hospitals, we'll be able to re-launch the economy," Legault said, adding that children whose parents go back to work will need somewhere to go.
"I don't want to take any risk that is too high, but, at the same time, we need eventually to restart the economy and give hope to the population."
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's director of public health, cited the fact that children are less at risk for coronavirus complications.
But he added kids must steer clear of their grandparents.
"It's why we want to give this separation between the ones that are at risk and the ones who are not at risk," Arruda said.
Quebec reported 241 deaths Friday — an increase of 25 — and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases also rose to 11,677 with 733 in hospital.
But Legault added the numbers have been largely stable in recent days and the number of people in intensive care decreased by 10 people to 186 in the past 24 hours.
After several days of discussing a plan to restart everyday life and revive a battered economy, the premier said he feels better days are ahead.
Asked if he was fuelling false hope, Legault defended his cautious optimism.
"We'll look at the results of the next few days, we'll discuss with Dr. Arruda and we'll take the decisions at the right time," Legault said. "But I think it's normal at this point that we look at the possibility of reopening, and I think we have good reasons right now to believe that we're coming close to the peak."
However, in a sign that it wouldn't be business as usual, the province's tourism minister requested cancellation of all summer festivals, public sporting events and cultural events through Aug. 31. Many major festivals in Montreal and Quebec City have already announced they were cancelling events this summer and others have been delayed until later this year.
Later Friday, Quebec announced a team of experts, led by Dr. Quoc Dinh Nguyen, a geriatrician and epidemiologist specializing in aging, will deploy an action plan to deal with a large number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at its long-term care facilities, where patients with underlying health problems have been hard hit.
Health Minister Danielle McCann said two facilities — one in Levis, near Quebec City, and another in Dorval, on Montreal's West Island — were now being operated by the regional health authorities.
McCann said Residence Herron, the privately-owned Montreal-area facility, requested government help because many employees were hit by COVID-19 and weren't able to provide care anymore.
She said she's asked for a full report after learning of a Montreal Gazette story published Friday that alleged authorities found two dead patients and many others who hadn't received proper treatment.
"The (regional health board) took charge of this residence a few days ago, this information I just learned today," McCann said. "I want to have a report on this and of course this is very preoccupying, but I do trust the (the board) has taken charge and is taking care of people inside the residence."
McCann said two people who died at Herron were linked to COVID-19 and 18 others had also died at the residence.
Authorities have said the vast majority of people who've died due to COVID-19 in the province — 99 per cent of deaths — are 70 and older.
The province's long-term care home also got some respite as hospitals were ordered to stop transferring patients to the facilities, where many of the province's deaths have been reported.
Legault said the transfers were necessary to free up to 8,000 hospital beds, but health officials are scaling back that number to about 6,000.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press