As many across the city had predicted, Montreal restaurants will remain closed for four more weeks than initially planned. Quebec premier Francois Legault announced that red zone restrictions that originally went into effect on October 1 would be extended until November 23 during a press conference yesterday evening.
Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Legault said that though the number of new COVID-19 cases across the province had plateaued, they remain at 800 to 1,000 per day, with roughly 10 deaths per day. “I don’t know if some people are getting used to that, but I’m not,” Legault said. “We have to lower that number, how many new cases we have, and that’s why we’re going to have to make efforts for another four weeks.”
The premier assured that the emergency financial assistance that was provided for the first four weeks of red zone restrictions would be extended into the following four weeks. However, several restaurateurs commenting on the Association Restauration Québec Facebook page say they have yet to receive any aid for the month of October.
Meanwhile, some restaurateurs like Michele Forgione (Impasto, Gema, Chez Tousignant, Vesta), David McMillan (Joe Beef), and Kevin Demers (Cold Room, Parliament El Pequeño) have taken to social media to air their discontent at the provincial government failing to provide scientific data as to why restaurants and bars in particular should remain closed (unlike shopping mall and other retail outlets). In an interview with CTV News, Jon Cercone, a co-owner of Tavern on the Square, said, “Show me evidence that I’m a superspreader, show me evidence that I’m harmful, instead of arbitrarily closing me.”
After Monday’s announcement, two restaurant owners started a public Facebook group, now boasting 480 members, called “Ouvrir Tous Les Restaurants, Bars et Services Alimentaires au Quebec” (French for “Open All Restaurants, Bars and Food Services in Quebec”). In a message posted to the group’s page, co-founder Stuart Abrams (executive chef and owner of Saint-Henri restaurant L’Ambroisie et L’Espace Canal) says, “They say there are 50,000 hospitality employees in the greater Montreal region, that’s a lot of people affected by these closures!! We need to get all of them on this group, then we will have a strong enough voice to be heard!”
Some in that group and elsewhere on social media are suggesting that restaurants and bars take a cue from gyms, which have gone on record saying they will reopen their doors on October 29 unless the Quebec government can provide evidence of a correlation between their establishments and COVID-19 outbreaks. Legault said during the press conference that institutions that follow through with this plan will be fined.
Beloved Old Montreal Polish restaurant Stash Café posted to its Facebook page that as a result of the extended restrictions, it will be closing its doors entirely and no longer offering takeout as it had been doing since October 1. The restaurant will revive operations once the government reopens dining rooms.
“We will take this time to prepare menu options for the upcoming holiday season,” the post reads. “It is our hope that the Legault government will also take this time to reflect and reevaluate their unjust treatment of the restaurant industry, an industry they accuse of being conducive to large uncontrolled gatherings, whereas we are of the view that we can provide a safe and healthy environment for families and couples to unwind.”
While Legault emphasized that reopening before November 23 was unlikely, he did say that the government would re-assess the situation in two weeks and ease restrictions if the number of cases and deaths significantly drops.