Quebec retailers ready for new world
Premier to eye progress, warns of closings should virus surge
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.
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.