Sad news unless you like drive-thrus. With cold weather signalling an end to terrace season, many Quebec restaurants are caught between hope and despair.
Faithful customers are turning out in numbers to try and sustain their favourite local eateries, but as the pandemic rages on, business owners are asking the government to loosen COVID-19 rules to help them stay afloat.
In an open letter published on October 22, 40 members of the province’s restaurant industry asked Premier François Legault to "re-evaluate the current situation in the restaurant industry and allow the reopening of dining rooms throughout Quebec."
“Closing the dining rooms has an immense impact on the mental health of managers and employees in the industry who are, in (too) many cases, exhausted, anxious, practically destitute, and do not see the end of the tunnel since no final reopening date has been set,” reads the letter.
But despite the call for assistance, the Ministry of Health and Social Services has announced it has no plans to loosen restrictions in red zones so long as transmission remains high.
Quebec's restaurants have been closed for weeks
The government announced at the end of October that the province’s partial lockdown would be extended through "at least" November 23, limiting restaurants in the red zone to takeout, delivery and drive-thru.
“For the moment, as long as the transmission of the virus remains high in the red zones, there are no plans to reopen dining rooms,” said Marie-Louise Harvey, a spokesperson for Quebec's health ministry, in an email.
As community transmission continues in many parts of the province, the government is trying to limit social contact between people as much as possible, she said.
Quebec’s restaurants are linked to nearly 400 COVID-19 cases, the ministry says
In their letter to the government, the restauranteurs said they have sought to keep their establishments safe for both employees and customers through “the rigorous application of sanitary measures.”
But their efforts have not been entirely successful.
According to the government’s numbers, restaurants, (including cafés, pastry shops, and fast-food outlets) have generated nearly 400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, said Harvey.
“This figure may be underestimated, as cases may not have been associated with this sector of activity or may have been inadvertently omitted during the epidemiological investigation,” she said.
Dear restaurants, we feel your pain
The government feels your pain, said Harvey.
“The ministry is very sensitive to the situation in which the restaurant industry finds itself at present,” she said.
“The efforts and sacrifices that this industry has made in recent months to provide a safe environment that meets current public health protection measures are recognized.”
The indoor dining ban reflects “the seriousness of the situation that currently prevails in Quebec.”
“We understand that the measures taken as part of the health emergency are affecting certain sectors of activity more severely,” said Harvey.
“Rest assured that the decisions made in pandemic situations are based on the best evidence available on a daily basis and are made by experts in order to protect the health of Quebecers.”
Quebec remains the country’s most severely affected province.
As of November 11, the province recorded more coronavirus deaths (6,515) than the rest of the country combined (4,170), and it's "possible that other measures will be adopted in the coming weeks to slow the transmission of the virus," according to Harvey.
Even when we’re out of the red zone, restaurants could see restrictions.
Currently, the government recommends a restaurant seating capacity of 10 people per table in the green and yellow zones, she said, and six people per table in the orange zone.