Restaurant dining rooms across Quebec are free to reopen as of Monday, January 31, Premier François Legault announced Tuesday.
Indoor dining has been suspended since December 31, 2021, following an announcement made less than 24 hours prior that stunted the busy holiday period for plenty of restaurants that depend on it to endure the long, typically slow winter months.
Legault says that the province is now ready to gradually reopen — with restrictions. Dining rooms will be limited to 50 percent capacity, and no more than four people or members of two households will be allowed to be seated together at a table. Vaccine passports will continue to be checked.
Quebec reported 85 new COVID-linked deaths today, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 12,936.
The news comes after widespread agitation from the province’s restaurateur community. On January 12, Mile End pizzeria Kesté announced on social media that it would be reopening at full capacity on January 30 in protest of the province’s latest round of shutdowns. And then, on January 21, Global News reported that hundreds of others were reportedly thinking of doing the same.
Others, including Outremont restaurants Le Petit Italien and Boucherie Provisions owner Pablo Rojas, took to social media to express how depleted they feel after being mandated to close for 13 months in the past two years. “Whole families are finding themselves in a worsening situation that is becoming more precarious every day. I’ve seen firsthand the effect all of this is having on the mental health of my team. People who have been with me for years talking about suicide because there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Rojas wrote, echoing a phrase Legault has been known to invoke and used again at the start of Tuesday’s press conference.
“I think we can say that we are headed out of the tunnel, but our health train is beaten up,” Legault said.
Calls to reopen dining rooms and criticism of the province’s handling of COVID-19 likely wouldn’t be as loud if restaurant owners and workers were provided sufficient financial support while closed. As chef Paul Toussaint told Eater last week, while speaking about his latest pandemic-era pivot, federal and provincial financial aid programs aren’t extended to businesses that launched during the pandemic, like his own, pan-Caribbean spot Kamúy. For those who do qualify for the support, it largely consists of loans and loan guarantees that eventually need to be paid back. And finally, as Rojas notes in his social media post, the government has reportedly been slow to disburse relief anyhow.
The situation isn’t better for out-of-work restaurant employees, who, on the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB), get just $300 a week (before taxes), significantly less than the $500 received earlier in the pandemic through CERB.
Today’s press conference didn’t provide any insight for the province’s bar owners and workers, though — they still don’t know when they’ll be able to return.