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Quebec Places New Limit on Group Dining, But Many Restaurants Have Already Opted to Go Dark

Faced with mounting COVID-19 case counts, the Legault government has decided to keep restaurant dining rooms open for now

dark restaurant with cups turned upside down on table. Getty Images/iStockphoto

With daily COVID-19 case counts continuing to outpace previous records and ongoing community transmission of the omicron variant — now the dominant strain in the province — a major concern, Quebec has decided to add one restriction to the cadre of measures previously announced for restaurants.

Speaking at a 6 p.m. presser on Wednesday, December 22, that some speculated would usher in a sweeping two-week lockdown or a curfew, Premier François Legault instead announced that restaurants must limit tables to a maximum of six people or the members of two households, starting Sunday, December 26. Gatherings in private residences will be capped at the same amount — also starting after the Christmas holiday.

This added measure for restaurants comes on the heels of a number of others. On December 16, Legault announced that restaurants and bars across the province would return to half capacity. Then on December 20, the day this measure was to go into effect, the province’s health minister Christian Dubé said that bars were being temporarily shut down and restaurants forced to limit the operating hours of their dining rooms from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. These measures are in addition to ongoing mask mandates and the vaccine passport requirement, which went into effect September 1.

During Wednesday’s presser, Legault described an “exponential rise” in COVID-19 cases spurred by the omicron variant and shared an alarming figure: Thursday’s daily case count is expected to surpass 9,000 infections. On Wednesday, the province posted 6,361 cases, which at the time was the most it’s seen since the onset of the pandemic.

Though the provincial government has decided that restaurants may remain open, a significant number of them in Montreal have voluntarily gone dark in response to the COVID-19 surge. In the past week, numerous spots put a full stop to indoor dining, flipping to takeout-only for the foreseeable future. Others have decided to kick off holiday breaks earlier than initially planned, and some have opted to cease all operations until further notice.

In the absence of a government mandate to shut down, some restaurants are still accepting diners — though that cohort seems to be shrinking by the day. Yesterday, Papineau Street Italian restaurant Antonietta, Thai newcomer Pichai, and Japanese eatery Otto Bistro were the latest to join the ranks of those initiating a precautionary closure.

Yesterday, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau also announced the eligibility for the federal government’s new Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB), a program that grants $300 a week ($270 after taxes) to anyone who can’t work because of a COVID-19 lockdown, has been temporarily expanded to include individuals whose workplaces have been affected by provincially mandated capacity limits, provided that they’ve lost over 50 percent of their income as a result of the restrictions.

Until yesterday’s announcement, it seemed that restaurant workers who’ve had shifts cut in the wake of Quebec’s capacity cap and businesses’ voluntary closures would not qualify for the aid because their segment of the hospitality industry hadn’t been entirely shut down, as was the case with bars.

The federal government is also temporarily easing the eligibility requirements of pandemic wage and rent subsidies for employers subject to provincial capacity-limiting restrictions (of 50 percent or more), as long as their businesses have seen at least a 25 percent decline in revenue. However, businesses that opened during the pandemic still do not qualify. These changes will be in effect until February 12, 2022, and retroactive to December 19, 2021, the day before Quebec’s restaurant capacity limit was reinstated. Meanwhile, earlier this week, the provincial government relaunched its business assistance program (AERAM) for venues that have been ordered shut, such as bars, adding that those in other sectors, like restaurants, will “receive special attention as the situation evolves.”

If the situation continues to deteriorate, Legault said yesterday that he would “not hesitate” to add another layer of restrictions.