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Quebec becomes first province to make masks mandatory in indoor public spaces

Last Updated Jul 18, 2020 at 11:54 am EDT

A man wearing mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19 is reflected next to a sign requiring face coverings at a business (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Quebec became the first province in Canada to require mask-wearing in all indoor public places on Saturday, with tougher new face-covering measures coming into effect.

The new directive, which applies to people aged 12 and older, coincided with tens of thousands of Quebecers spanning out on vacation with the beginning of the traditional two-week construction holiday.

Businesses will be expected to enforce the new rules and are subject to fines of between $400 and $6,000 if their customers are caught violating the directive.

That’s something that has rankled small-and-medium sized business owners. A group of 13 associations representing the majority of those businesses that’ll have to apply the rules called on the burden to be shifted to delinquent clients unwilling to wear a mask.

“We do think that asking people to wear masks in indoor, closed public spaces is fine, we prefer that rather than having to go into a second confinement and having to close our businesses again,” said Gopinath Jeyabalaratnam, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Where we are having some trouble is that we have to play police, we have to be the enforcer of this measure.”

He said some businesses have opted simply to give disposable masks to clients who don’t have one – an added cost. But short of putting up signs or asking citizens to put one on, there isn’t much else they can do.

“It’s very difficult for a store owner to enforce it in some other way, so we don’t see why business owners should pay fines,” Jeyabalaratnam said.

“It should be up to the person who is refusing to wear masks who is responsible in some way to pay for his or her own mistake.”

Some Quebecers have also joined protests against the new edict, arguing the government shouldn’t have a blanket policy when most regions outside Montreal weren’t deeply affected by COVID-19.

But Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, has responded by stating all Quebecers should get in the habit of wearing masks to prepare for a possible second wave of the virus in the fall.

Quebec has seen a slight resurgence in COVID-19 cases in recent days, which Premier Francois Legault has said is due, in part, to house parties.

On Saturday, the province added 158 new cases, bringing the total provincial tally to 57,300.

The province also added seven further deaths for a total of 5,654.

Provincial health authorities say that 50,027 people have recovered.