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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Reporter Debrief: How COVID-19 Is Impacting Life In Quebec

Police car at the international border.
Wilson Ring
Associated Press
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruiser sits in Quebec, Canada, across the border from Derby Line on March 18. Like in Vermont, it's looking as if COVID-19 will impact life in Quebec for months to come.

North of Vermont's international border with Quebec, cases have now topped 10,000, and 175 people in the Canadian province have died. Quebec has had social distancing measures in place since March 12, and like elsewhere, it's looking like the pandemic will greatly impact life in the province and its biggest city, Montreal, for months to come.

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with CBC Montreal reporter Kate McKenna. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Henry Epp: The province of Quebec put out new projections for the spread of COVID-19 earlier this week. What are officials expecting in terms of case numbers and when the disease might peak?

Kate McKenna: They put out two kind of scenarios that they have in mind that are modeled off of Germany and Italy. So one of them, they're calling it the pessimistic scenario. And that is, you know, up to 9,000 people could die of COVID-19 by the end of the month. But the more optimistic scenario, and frankly, the one that we have been closer to so far, if you follow the graph, is that about 1,200 people could die of COVID-19 by the end of the month. Obviously, that's still a lot of people.

They are expecting that the outbreak here in Quebec will peak around April 18, so about 10 days from now. We've been practicing these social distancing measures for a few weeks now. And so far, our systems here, our health care systems haven't been incredibly overwhelmed. So for that peak to come soon would be good news.

You mentioned the social distancing measures which were put in place in March. Have people generally accepted those measures around Quebec and adapted to them?

I think because of the sheer number, the sheer volume of cases that we have here in Quebec — we've pretty consistently had about half the cases in Canada — there was a great wave of solidarity among people in Montreal and other parts of Quebec in terms of respecting the social distancing. Like, most people are staying inside unless they're essential workers.

It's tricky and we're right in the thick of it. And the news is changing so quickly, that it's hard for people. But I can tell you, I myself have been indoors for 14 days. I mean, a lot of people, anybody who's been tested, has to stay indoors for 14 days.

Are tests readily available in Quebec for people who have symptoms or think they might have the disease?

An important part of the Quebec story is that our March break was right before, kind of, all of North America started clamping down and taking social distancing very seriously. So a lot of people had just come back from overseas and there were a lot of travelers. And so initially the criteria to get tested was that you had to have traveled back recently, and you have to have symptoms.

And so then, you know, within days ... a lot of people knew that community spread was going to be an issue, but it was very difficult to get tested if you believed that you had the symptoms, but you hadn't traveled. That has eased up, especially in Montreal. They've taken Place des Festival, which is like a tourist hub, and they've changed that. They put up big military tents and people can go get tested there for free.

Montreal is usually a bustling city, even in the dead of winter. Typically the upcoming warmer months have all these festivals and events, and it sounds like that's just not going to be the case for at least a few more months, right?

Well, that's right. Yesterday, Mayor Vallérie Plante in Montreal said that all large gatherings are banned until at least July 2. But, you know, we had already heard a week ago — there's a big Francophone music festival that happens here, they canceled. Jazz Festival canceled. Just for Laughs postponed. So certainly that artistic community is really taking a hit.

Yeah, I mean, at this point, we just don't know. We just don't know what it's going to look like in a couple years and what the long-term effects of this is going to be economically. But there's certainly still that Quebec, Montreal spirit of trying to get through this together.

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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