OHS Canada Magazine

New 250-person public gathering limit fairly low risk: Quebec health official

New measure applies only to public venues


Quebec’s move to change the public-gathering limit from 50 to 250 has been met with some concern. (Mario Beauregard/Adobe Stock)

By Morgan Lowrie

MONTREAL — The decision to allow public gatherings of up to 250 people comes with a relatively low risk of COVID-19 transmission compared to other riskier social activities, Quebec’s public health director said Monday.

Dr. Horacio Arruda said there weren’t any COVID-19 outbreaks associated with public outdoor or indoor events when the limit was set at 50 people.

The measure that came into effect Monday applies only to public venues such as theatres, concert halls, houses of worship and indoor amateur sporting events, and stipulates that measures such as physical distancing and mask-wearing must be respected.

The limit on private gatherings remains at 10 people.

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The province’s move to change the gathering limit from 50 to 250 was met with some concern from those who questioned the wisdom of the decision at a time when cases were rebounding slightly.

But Arruda said people are much more likely to hug or ignore physical distancing rules at small private parties than at the opera or a large concert hall.

“We really think that in a space large enough to have 250 persons who can go to a show, sit in a chair separated by 1.5 metres, I think the risk there is very acceptable compared to a party of 30 people,” he said.

Distancing can be maintained

Health Minister Christian Dube stressed that the new rules applied in “auditoriums, not assembly locations,” where distancing can be maintained.

While the government’s decision to raise the limit may have raised eyebrows among members of the public, an association representing small business owners say it’s not enough to help venue owners recoup their 2020 losses.

“Even though the government is allowing those venues to accept a maximum of 250 people, the reality is the weddings are cancelled, the parties are cancelled, the corporate events are cancelled,” said Gopinath Jeyabalaratnam, a policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

With government rules in place to prohibit dancing and mingling and forcing venues to stop serving alcohol at midnight, most people are simply rescheduling their events, he said.

Jeyabalaratnam said that without government help, many of the province’s sugar shacks, reception halls and wedding sites will likely go out of business.

On Monday, the Quebec government announced $6 million in emergency funding for the province’s concert halls, but Jeyabalaratnam said that should be expanded to include other types of businesses that also depend on large crowds to make ends meet.

“If we want to be able to celebrate our weddings next year, it’s in the government’s interest to help,” he said.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported another 123 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours as well as two more deaths. Hospitalizations remained stable at 172, while the number of people in intensive care increased by one to 18.

Quebec has recorded 59,722 infections since the pandemic began, with 5,683 deaths.

Dube challenged Quebecers to work together to reduce the number of active cases in the province before the start of a potential second wave.

“Lets remain vigilant,” he said.

“I think we can improve, and in conclusion I would like to reduce the number of daily cases we can see in the next weeks to make sure we are ready to start the second wave with a lower number.”

He also asked travellers who are returning home after Quebec’s two-week construction holiday to get tested if they found themselves in any risky situations.