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Quebec surpasses 4,000 COVID deaths

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MONTREAL — Quebec reported its sixth consecutive daily decrease in the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Monday, as retail stores across the Montreal area reopened following weeks of shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus.

Authorities had repeatedly pushed back the reopening day for Montreal-area stores because they worried the province’s health-care system couldn’t handle a sudden increase in COVID cases.

Premier Francois Legault told reporters in Montreal on Monday that in the past seven days, 114 COVID-19 patients had left Montreal-area hospitals while about 1,194 patients remain. The situation is improving but “it’s still fragile,” he said.

“That’s why we are reopening gradually,” said Legault, who also announced Monday that shopping centres outside the greater Montreal area could reopen as of June 1. The manufacturing sector was also permitted to operate at 100 per cent capacity.

“We have to continue to be careful because we cannot afford to have large increases in the next few days or weeks in the number of people in our hospitals in Montreal,” Legault said.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, said the province had finally met its target of conducting 14,000 daily tests for COVID-19. Authorities conducted roughly 15,000-16,000 tests per day on Thursday and Friday, he said.

That number dropped to fewer than 12,000 on Saturday and Arruda said he expected the testing figure to be even lower on Sunday, noting fewer people visit testing clinics on weekends.

But even as the number of tests increases, the number of positive results is dropping. The province now has 47,984 confirmed cases of COVID-19 - an increase of 573 cases compared to Sunday. More than 14,650 people have recovered.

Quebec reported 85 additional deaths linked to COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total number to 4,069 since the beginning of the pandemic. Legault said 42 of the newly reported deaths occurred more than seven days ago in Laval, a hard-hit city north of Montreal.

Arruda said the number of daily confirmed cases of the virus is decreasing - despite more testing - because people living in hard-hit areas of Montreal have already been exposed to the virus, which is leading to a slowdown in community spread.

There are also fewer positive daily cases, he said, because public health authorities are conducting more tests outside long-term care homes and other health care settings, where the rate of COVID-19 transmission is lower.

Legault also announced Monday that asylum seekers who are working in the health-care system could be eligible for a path to citizenship as immigrants instead of through the federal refugee system.

His government has been taking criticism from members of the Haitian community for its strict posture on the asylum seekers who had been entering Quebec illegally over the past few years - many of whom originated from Haiti.

Leaders among the city’s Haitian diaspora have said many asylum seekers have taken jobs as orderlies in long-term care homes. Legault said he asked his immigration minister to review each case of asylum seekers working in the health-care sector, to see if they qualify as immigrants.

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