Masks or face coverings will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces across Quebec, beginning Saturday, July 18. That coincides with the start of the province’s two-week construction holiday, when tens of thousands of Quebecers take their summer vacation.
“It’s better to wear a mask than to be confined at home,” said Premier François Legault in making the announcement on July 13. “It’s not fun wearing a mask, but it’s essential.”
The regulation applies to everyone age 12 and up, although Legault said even children as young as two could be encouraged to wear a mask. People with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing one will be exempted.
Legault said the government took time before making masks mandatory to get people used to the two-metre distancing rule, which he said is the most important one to follow. He also stressed the importance of keeping gatherings to a maximum of 10 people.
The indoor mask regulation will apply to retail stores, malls and recreational centres and any other enclosed public space, including restaurants, whenever someone is not seated at a table. Business owners are responsible for applying the new regulations. If they fail to, they could face fines of between $400 and $6,000.
To start, only businesses will face fines
As of Aug. 1, individuals who refuse to wear masks could also face fines. For now, that won’t happen, but people without masks could be denied entry to indoor establishments.
Dr. Karl Weiss, a microbiologist and the head of infectious diseases at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, said wearing a mask is a temporary measure that has to become as much of a habit as stopping for a red light. “It’s not a debate. It’s something that everyone has to use,” said Weiss. “It has to be apolitical. The day we have an effective vaccine, the mask will disappear.”
Weiss said several studies have proven the effectiveness of using a mask to limit the spread of coronavirus micro-droplets. Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said he was evaluating the possibility of making masks mandatory after Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she planned to do so.
As of July 13, wearing a mask or face covering is mandatory on public transit across the province.
Financial impact worries businesses
In a news release, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said although its members understand that asking customers to wear masks is important to contain the spread of COVID-19, they are concerned about the cost. “Only 20% of Quebec businesses are earning their usual income for this time of year,” said the CFIB. “Many cannot afford to lose customers and will bear the additional costs of purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE).” The federation is asking for financial assistance to purchase PPE for workers.
The last thing Quebec’s merchants want is to close up shop because of an outbreak of COVID-19, said Stéphane Drouin of the Quebec retail council. He said shop owners will apply the new regulations responsibly, and he has faith customers will comply. “In Montreal, many people accept that they have to wear the mask,” Drouin said. “I can understand that in the regions, where there hasn’t been a case for two or three months, it may require a greater social acceptability.”
For Étienne Cummings, director of public relations and government affairs for Quebec City’s chamber of commerce, the new regulation was a logical next step, although it will not be easy for merchants to turn away customers who refuse to wear mask. He said he hopes the new rule won’t discourage Quebecers from continuing to support local businesses.