Canada province hit worst by coronavirus aims to slowly restart economy in May

MONTREAL/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Quebec, the Canadian province hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, on Tuesday said it would slowly reopen its economy in May while keeping some social restrictions to avoid possible flare-ups.

FILE PHOTO: Quebec Premier Francois Legault is pictured during a news conference after a meeting with Canada's provincial premiers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

“Our challenge is to gradually restart the economy without restarting the pandemic,” Premier Francois Legault told a briefing. Quebec will start with the civil engineering and road construction sector, factories and some stores while watching data on new infections.

“It’s important to keep the controls,” Legault said.

All 10 provinces have closed down most non-essential enterprises to fight the outbreak, putting millions out of work.

Legault thanked the business community, saying, “I know these have been terrible weeks; it’s been hell financially”.

Data released on Tuesday showed the death toll across Canada had risen by more than 10% for the first time in nine days, climbing 11.1% to a total of 2,766. There have been 49,025 confirmed cases.

Quebec, the second-most populous province, accounts for 58% of the coronavirus-related deaths and 51% of confirmed cases.

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The vast majority of Quebec deaths have occurred in nursing homes and among people aged 60 and over. Legault said on Monday that some schools would soon reopen.

Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa and the provinces would soon release guidelines on returning to normal, stressing there had to be enough capacity to test and trace the coronavirus to control any new spread.

“If we lift the restrictions too soon, we could lose all the progress we’ve already made,” he told a briefing.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the fight against the coronavirus was “still a marathon”.

The epidemic is spreading more slowly, updated federal modeling showed, with the number of cases doubling every 16 days now compared with every 3 days early in the outbreak.

The modeling showed deaths could rise to as many as 3,883 by May 5 and total cases to 66,835.

The overall death toll by the end of the pandemic is seen at between 4,000 and 44,000. On April 9, the projected had been for between 11,000 and 22,000 deaths.

Ontario, the most populous province and another coronavirus hot spot, on Monday said it would not begin lifting restrictions for weeks to come.

One of Quebec’s biggest manufacturing firms, plane and rail maker Bombardier Inc, announced it would gradually resume manufacturing on May 11. It said nearly 11,000 employees - accounting for most of those put on furlough - were expected to be back at work within the next few weeks.

Company precautions like daily employee temperature checks, tool disinfecting stations and the installation of Plexiglas shields show an effort to protect workers, said Serge Dupont, assistant to the Quebec director of the union Unifor.

“Are people concerned? It would be a lie if I said no,” Dupont said. “But the majority are happy to go back to work.”

Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Jonathan Oatis, Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman