MONTREAL — Quebec authorities say they prefer bars and restaurants follow public health directives instead of being forced by the government to collect the personal information of their patrons in case of a COVID-19 outbreak.
"We aren't there yet," Premier Francois Legault told reporters Tuesday when asked about requiring private businesses to keep a register of customers. New Brunswick, for example, requires bars, restaurants and other venues to collect such data to make it easier to trace people after an outbreak.
"Maybe in places like bars, if there is spread of the virus, we can ask for a register to trace people who were in contact with infected people," Legault said. "But our first wish is for people to respect the two-metre rule and that there is no spread."
On Monday, Health Minister Christian Dube threatened owners of bars and restaurants with closure after reports that some in the Montreal area weren't following public health guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's director of public health, told reporters Tuesday that forcing businesses to collect the personal data of their patrons is not the Quebec way of doing things — for now.
"We could look at that," he said, referring to a register. "We aren't in the same culture of (collecting) personal information of individuals." Arruda, like Legault, said he would prefer businesses just follow the rules.
On Monday, regional health authorities on Montreal's South Shore said infected people who went to a bar in the area last week were tied to a cluster of 20 cases. In response to the outbreak, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante announced Monday her council would pass a bylaw requiring mask-wearing in indoor public places.
Legault said while he hasn't ruled it out, he also wasn't ready to give the same order province-wide. And he questioned how that Montreal bylaw would be applied.
"How would we do that in stores?" he asked, regarding the bylaw's enforcement. "It's something I'd like to discuss with (Plante)."
Arruda said public health officials are studying the possibility of requiring Quebecers across the province to wear masks in most closed public spaces. He called the discussions "a balancing act" because he said there is the risk some people will resist the rule and there are questions about enforcement.
"It's easy to say we're going to make it mandatory, but what does it mean? What are the sanctions in place? Who will apply them?," Arruda said. "It's all this that needs to be taken into consideration."
Meanwhile, Legault expressed frustration that more than 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces soldiers have ended their mission inside Quebec's long-term care homes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in late June the Canadian Red Cross will send 900 people to replace them.
Trudeau said 150 Red Cross workers would arrive before July 6, with the balance in place by July 29.
Legault told reporters he hoped the Red Cross would be deployed more quickly. The premier lamented that only about 100 Red Cross members had begun working in Quebec's long-term care homes, where the majority of the province's deaths attributed to COVID-19 have occurred.
A Department of National Defence spokesperson said in an email Tuesday that soldiers transitioned out of Quebec long-term care homes on June 29, with small teams on standby to respond to any COVID-19 outbreaks that staff can't control on their own.
Legault said many hospital staff are still working in seniors' residences, creating residual problems in getting hospital operations going.
Quebec reported 13 new deaths Tuesday attributed to the novel coronavirus, for a total of 5,590. The province said nine of those deaths occurred in the past 24 hours, while another four occurred before June 29.
Quebec also announced 60 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 55,997, including 25,458 cases that are considered recovered.
After posting a slight increase Monday, health authorities said hospitalizations diminished by 30 patients, for a total of 347. Among those in hospital, 26 patients are in intensive care, an increase of one.
Public health authorities conducted 5,318 COVID-19 tests on July 5, the last day for which data is available, representing a significant decrease compared with the past week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 7, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press