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Quebec closes shopping malls, restaurants, extends school closure

Quebec is ordering the closure of all restaurant dining rooms and shopping malls until at least May to prevent people from gathering and potentially spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

Quebec is ordering the closure of all restaurant dining rooms and shopping malls until at least May to prevent people from gathering and potentially spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

Premier Francois Legault said salons will also have to close, however grocery stores, pharmacies and liquor stores can stay open, even if they're in shopping centres.

Stores that open to the outdoors will be allowed to stay open. Restaurants, which had previously been allowed to stay open at 50 per cent capacity, are encouraged to offer takeout, he said.

The news came as the number of confirmed cases in the province rose by 38 on Sunday, to 219 from 181.

Legault reminded reporters in Quebec City that an increase was expected due to a rise in testing, and that it was too soon for recent social distancing efforts to have a positive impact on the numbers.

"The measures we have taken in the last 10 days will be felt, are having an impact, that's what public health tells us," he said. "But we think at this stage we have to go a little further, have to intensify our measures." 

Legault also announced the province's schools, universities and daycares would remain closed until at least May.

He said high school provincial exams would be cancelled, even if classes can resume.

Universities were expected to be able to resume their semesters through online learning, he indicated.

Legault once again appealed to Quebecers to avoid all social gatherings and said police would only be used to enforce those rules as a last resort.

When questioned about reports of police breaking up gatherings in Quebec City, Legault said the primary role of law enforcement is to inform the population of the measures in place.

"Right now we count on the good faith of the population," he said. "We want to use police and the force only in very few exceptions in order not to have any type of chaos in our society."

Montreal police said Sunday afteroon that they'd received about 80 calls believed to be related to Saturday's provincial directive to avoid gatherings.

Spokeswoman Veronique Comtois stressed that police would first work to encourage citizens to collaborate, but said those who don't listen could face fines of at least $1,000.

Quebec City police said they'd gotten about a dozen calls between Saturday evening and Sunday to signal possible gatherings, while Quebec provincial police on Sunday said they'd received a few dozen.

All three police forces said they were focused on educating the public before using punitive measures.

Montreal announced Sunday afternoon that it was closing its playgrounds and play structures in response to the premier's order.

The number of deaths in the province declined to four from five, after a person whose death had originally been attributed to COVID-19 ended up testing negative.

All four deaths are linked to the same seniors' residence, the premier said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 22, 2020.

—with files from Michel Saba.

The Canadian Press