MONTREAL — Quebec will permit day camps across the province to open this summer, Premier Francois Legault announced Thursday as he also paid a visit to Laval, a city north of Montreal hard-hit by COVID-19.
Legault told reporters in Montreal during his daily briefing that day camps will be open as of June 22, with physical distancing and other COVID-19 health measures in effect.
That means smaller groups of children and frequent handwashing.
Legault encouraged teenagers and young adults to apply for counsellor jobs and acknowledged the province is competing with the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit, which provides $1,250 per four-week period for students unable to find work..
The province hasn't ruled out providing financial help for municipalities and groups that run the camps and will have to double staffing and find more space to meet public health guidelines.
"But it's very important for kids to play outside, to play together," Legault said.
Legault said the province hopes to announce the opening of public pools, while the Municipal Affairs Department said sleep-away summer camps — which the public health director described as conduits for transmission — would be put off until the summer of 2021.
Legault said the day camps will give parents some respite and the province's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said the activities will be important for development of children who've been confined for months.
"I don't think we're going to ask kids to put on masks, they're going to be like small families," Arruda said. "With these rules, we will have a better effect than if it's done clandestinely, because at least we will be able to know who went with whom."
The province announced 82 more COVID-19 deaths Thursday, bringing the provincial total to 3,800, but Legault noted some of those deaths happened as much as five days earlier.
The province also added 720 new cases for a total 45,495 positive cases across the province, with 13,327 people recovered.
In Laval, which has per capita COVID-19 infection numbers that rival Montreal, Legault met with Mayor Marc Demers and offered the community 250,000 masks for distribution.
Legault said the situation is improving and masks will be important given retail businesses with a dedicated entrance will reopen in Montreal, Laval and the surrounding suburbs on Monday.
Demers said 4,950 people have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with 475 deaths.
"The pandemic hit us head on and created a humanitarian challenge, a health challenge and an economic one," Demers said.
Just west of Laval, members of the Mohawk community of Kanesatake continued to block access to Oka provincial park, which was slated to partially reopen along with other provincial parks on Wednesday.
Legault said he understands Kanesatake's concerns about infection from visitors to the region and said discussions aimed at resolving the situation are ongoing.
In Ottawa, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller described the set-up outside the park entrance as a security checkpoint and said discussions are ongoing between the community and his provincial counterpart in coming to a resolution.
"We're not talking about barricades, we're not talking about a crisis," Miller said, adding he wouldn't be surprised to see other such actions could crop up elsewhere in the country as provinces begin easing restrictions.
He said he would not pass judgment "on how a community protects its vulnerable members."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press