Que­bec re­tail­ers ready for new world

Premier to eye progress, warns of clos­ings should virus surge

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Business - ROSA SABA TORONTO STAR With files from The Cana­dian Press

Que­bec an­nounced Tues­day its plan to re­open busi­nesses start­ing next week, with many re­tail lo­ca­tions open­ing on Mon­day and con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing start­ing up on May 11.

Premier François Le­gault said the num­ber of new cases of COVID-19 has been sta­ble for the past two weeks, ex­clud­ing those in long-term-care homes. Based on this, the prov­ince has de­cided to re­open the busi­nesses whose clo­sures have af­fected the econ­omy the most.

Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s web­site, Que­bec has had close to 25,000 cases of COVID-19 to date and more than 1,500 deaths — far more than any other prov­ince. Eighty-four of those deaths were an­nounced Mon­day, along­side 875 new cases.

Le­gault said progress will be mon­i­tored closely and busi­nesses will close again if there is a surge in the virus.

“Our chal­lenge is to grad­u­ally restart the econ­omy with­out restart­ing the pan­demic,” he said.

Re­tail busi­nesses — not in­clud­ing stores in shop­ping malls with no out­side en­trances — can open Mon­day, ex­cept for those in Mon­treal, which can re­open May 11. That in­cludes re­tail sup­ply chain busi­nesses. All con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity can re­sume May11, but re­lated ad­min­is­tra­tion work must con­tinue to be done re­motely. Man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies can re­sume on May 11, but with lim­its. Staff are lim­ited to 50 work­ers plus 55 per cent of em­ploy­ees ex­ceed­ing 50 work­ers. On May 25, those re­stric­tions will be lifted.

Le­gault an­nounced on Mon­day that ele­men­tary schools and day­cares out­side of Mon­treal will be­gin re­open­ing May 11 with those in the city to be­gin open­ing on May 19.

On­tario’s plan, an­nounced this week, is very dif­fer­ent from Que­bec’s. As Premier Doug Ford put it, it’s “not a cal­en­dar, it’s a road map,” mean­ing there is no spe­cific date set yet for the plan to be set in mo­tion.

On­tario’s three-step plan be­gins with the open­ing of cer­tain work­places that have the abil­ity to mod­ify op­er­a­tions ac­cord­ing to so­cial dis­tanc­ing pro­to­cols. This would in­clude re­open­ing pub­lic parks, loos­en­ing re­stric­tions around fu­ner­als, and al­low­ing more busi­nesses to do curb­side pickup or de­liv­ery.

As well, non-ur­gent surg­eries would be­gin again, es­pe­cially cancer surg­eries.

The sec­ond phase would see more busi­nesses re­open, in­clud­ing re­tail busi­nesses and some work­places, as well as al­low­ing some pub­lic gath­er­ings.

The third phase would open all work­places and re­lax rules on pub­lic gath­er­ings fur­ther, though Ford said it could be a while be­fore the largest events, such as sport­ing events and con­certs, would be al­lowed.

Each stage would be two to four weeks long, de­pend­ing on what the pub­lic of­fi­cer of health deems ap­pro­pri­ate based on the num­ber of new cases.

Ac­cord­ing to Anita McGa­han, a pro­fes­sor of strate­gic man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, the two prov­inces’ ap­proaches re­flect one dif­fi­cult truth: The econ­omy will have to re­open be­fore a vac­cine is avail­able.

“This is a long-term prob­lem,” said McGa­han. She said the On­tario ap­proach is fo­cused on med­i­cal cri­te­ria, while the Que­bec ap­proach is fo­cused on eco­nomic re­lief. Each comes with its own set of risks, she said.

In On­tario, the prov­ince will have to in­ject more money into the econ­omy through rent re­lief and other help for laid-off work­ers and closed busi­nesses, she said.

In Que­bec, re­open­ing the econ­omy ear­lier runs the risk of a surge in the virus. But if On­tario’s econ­omy is closed for too long, McGa­han said peo­ple may start skirt­ing the rules — again, caus­ing a surge in the virus.

She said it may seem sim­ple to crit­i­cize Que­bec for re­open­ing schools and some busi­nesses ear­lier than On­tario, even though Que­bec has by far the high­est num­ber of deaths per capita.

But she said it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the news will be wel­come for lower-in­come work­ers, who are feel­ing the eco­nomic ef­fects of the pan­demic hard­est.

“There’s risks no mat­ter which di­rec­tion you go,” she said.

David Sober­man, a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Rot­man, said he’s more con­cerned about schools re­open­ing than busi­nesses, es­pe­cially since there is only a month and a half left un­til school closes for the sum­mer. He said it’s much harder to keep chil­dren six feet apart than it is work­ers in a fac­tory and that could put their par­ents, grand­par­ents and teach­ers at risk.

By con­trast, open­ing re­tail busi­nesses seems “pretty rea­son­able,” he said.

Over­all, Sober­man said On­tario — sur­pris­ingly, to him — has been more con­ser­va­tive in its ap­proach to re­open­ing the econ­omy than Que­bec has.

He said the prov­inces should be work­ing to­gether to re­open the econ­omy not sec­tor by sec­tor, but mu­nic­i­pal­ity by mu­nic­i­pal­ity — start­ing ru­rally, and work­ing up to the more pop­u­lous cities.

RYAN REMIORZ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A pedes­trian walks along a side­walk Tues­day in Mon­treal. The Que­bec gov­ern­ment an­nounced that most re­tail stores can re­open next week, but progress will be mon­i­tored closely.

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