Quebec will start to lift some COVID-19 restrictions on Jan. 31, reopening restaurant dining rooms, as some restaurant and bar owners are mulling over reopening their businesses in defiance of the public health measures.
Gyms, bars, and entertainment venues in the province have been closed since December 2021, as have restaurant dining rooms. Private gatherings have also been limited to members of the same household.
"I told you last week that we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Legault said. "I think we can say today that we are out of the tunnel."
"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."
Martin Vézina, a spokesman for a group representing Quebec restaurants, told The Canadian Press that he was happy that dining rooms can reopen, even though the capacity limits will make it difficult for owners to turn a profit without continued government aid.
But the reopening plan would allow restaurants to hire back some of their employees and would give them enough time to prepare for the lucrative Valentine’s Day holiday, he said.
At least one Montreal-area restaurant owner, however, was no longer willing to wait for the official green light.
Humza Chaudhry, co-owner of the breakfast and lunch restaurant Baba & Zazu in the Mount Royal neighbourhood, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that he had reopened his dining room to full capacity a few days ago and that he is no longer concerned about the consequences.
"Enough is enough. We’re done with it," he said. "Everything is open, if we don’t open we’ll go underwater."
Chaudhry said even if an official reopening is coming, he needed time to train his kitchen and floor staff and prepare them physically and mentally for a return to work.
The response from customers has been positive.
"They feel like they’re getting out of prison," Chaudhry said.
The province will continue to relax public health restrictions next month. On Feb. 7, entertainment and sports venues will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, or a maximum of 500 people in attendance.
Legault said a further phase of reopening, which would include gyms and spas, would be announced when the situation in hospitals improves, which he said is "in rough shape," and the province will need time to build the hospital capacity it needs.
He added that the province had no choice but to open gradually given the fragile state of its hospitals.
Despite a drop in hospitalizations in recent days, Quebec's Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province's health system can still only carry out between 40 and 45 percent of scheduled surgeries, on average.
Dubé said the number of health workers missing from the system had stabilized at about 12,000, allowing the province to begin reopening some emergency rooms that had cut hours or services due to the pandemic.
He did not provide a date for when surgeons would begin to catch up on the backlog, but promised it would happen "the minute that we have the necessary personnel."