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COVID-19: Bas-St-Laurent region now open, concern over impact on rural communities

On April 29, the Quebec government announced its plan to gradually reopen its regions, spread over several weeks in May. On May 4 and 11, access was granted to several areas such as the regional county municipalities of Lanaudière, Chaudière-Appalaches, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Outaouais, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and the Mauricie and Centre-du-Quebec health regions. As of Monday, the government has opened the Bas-St-Laurent, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Capitale-Nationale health regions, as well as the territory of Ville de Gatineau and Les Collines-de-L’Outaouais municipalities contiguous with Ontario. Starting May 31st, the Côte-North health regions will be open as well, excluding the Minganie and Golfe-du-Saint-Laurent MRCs.

This date just missed the Victoria Day weekend, a time when many urbanites begin migrating back to their cottages in smaller, rural towns for the summer. The slowed influx of cottage-goers was a relief for many rural residents, as anxiety levels remain high around the lifting of travel bans across the province, and the impact this could have on rural areas. According to a recent Leger poll, 80% of Quebecers who reside outside the city of Montreal do not want the city to open anytime soon. Another study released by Quebec’s public health institute on May 8 only added to such concerns. The report presented a scenario that saw cases rise to nearly 10,000 a day in the Greater Montreal area if the government allows for deconfinement in the near future.

Many municipal mayors outside of the city have demanded roadblocks remain in place until at least the end of June, and petitions supporting such a continuation have collected thousands of signatures across Quebec. The government’s plan to reopen its regions remains in place for now, but as anxieties rise and the situation is followed closely there is potential for a continued closure.

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