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Amid Jump In Coronavirus Infections, Canada Issues New Restrictions

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Government leaders in Canada have asked people not to gather for Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations this weekend. That's because coronavirus cases are rising in several provinces. Emma Jacobs reports from Quebec, which closed some businesses back down this month in hard hit regions, including Montreal and Quebec City.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and museums had reopened this summer in Montreal after a strict spring lockdown. Now, they're shut down again until at least the end of October.

JACOBS: Outdoor produce market Jean-Talon remains open for grocery shopping but plastic barriers separate vendors from masked customers.

LISE BELIVEAU: (Speaking French).

JACOBS: One shopper, Lise Beliveau, says she's been asking herself how Quebec could return to having more than a thousand new cases a day - number more like the spring, when the virus killed thousands in nursing homes here. Recently retired, she feels isolated by the closures.

BELIVEAU: (Speaking French).

JACOBS: Everything's shut down and since I don't have social contact at work anymore, it's difficult for me, she says. But this week, Quebec's Health Minister, Christian Dube, urged everyone not to host visitors or even spend time outdoors with anyone outside their households.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTIAN DUBE: Please don't test the hospital system. There are already - the nurses, the doctors, what they are asking you, what they asking the Quebecers - please, stay home.

JACOBS: In Ontario, which has the next highest case numbers and hospitalizations, similar closures took effect this weekend. Officials blame social gatherings for rising cases among younger people. In French-speaking Quebec, where the pandemic is most acute, former provincial junior health minister David Levine says cultural factors have contributed.

DAVID LEVINE: There is much more gregarious population, not as easy to accept rules, not as easy to accept constraints.

JACOBS: But Montreal-based behavioral scientist Kim Lavoie also faults the provincial government. Quebec re-opened much of the economy faster than its neighbors. And nearly all kids here returned to school this fall with no masks required in classrooms.

KIM LAVOIE: What people get is this mixed message and it just completely undermines the credibility.

JACOBS: The former official, David Levine, says the government appears to hope that by targeting social gatherings and finally, requiring masks for older students, it can avoid shutting down more of the economy.

LEVINE: Governments have invested extraordinary sums, have gone into extraordinary debt to deal with the first phase. I think they're very frightened about not having the wherewithal to do this kind of support in a second phase.

JACOBS: Canada's Parliament recently approved an extension of unemployment benefits and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new relief programs for affected businesses on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: The measures we are announcing today are targeted specifically so that people can make the local public health decisions and recommendations necessary to control this epidemic.

JACOBS: The cases aren't rising everywhere. Four eastern provinces that have restricted travel from the outside have only a handful of active cases. And Canada has suffered far fewer COVID deaths per capita than The United States. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.

(SOUNDBITE OF AKIRA KOSEMURA'S "DNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.