With the COVID-19 situation improving and Quebec no longer providing weekly pandemic updates, the Montreal Gazette is putting on hiatus the live blog that has anchored its online coverage over the past 26 months.
Since it was launched on March 11, 2020, the blog has documented many striking moments. Here’s a look at five of them.
Dark: The horror of the Herron CHSLD
“Authorities find bodies, thirsty residents, feces at Dorval seniors’ residence: sources.”
A month into the pandemic, that stark April 11, 2020, Gazette headline shook Quebec and opened a window into the devastation in long-term care homes (CHSLDs), where COVID-19 was running rampant amid appalling conditions.
That day, a grim Premier François Legault announced a police investigation. Twenty-five months later, the reverberations are still being felt. Despite claims they only learned of the Herron CHSLD situation after the Gazette broke the story, documents submitted to a coroner’s inquest last month revealed senior ministers in Legault’s government were informed 10 days earlier. Little was done until the story broke.
Opposition parties accuse the Legault government of lying and covering up an inept response to the crisis in CHSLDs. They want a public inquiry. Legault says no, insisting the coroner will uncover the truth. Coroner Géhane Kamel is expected to submit her final report later this year.
In the pandemic’s first wave during the spring of 2020, 4,000 seniors died in care homes, including 47 at the Herron.
Jarring: Legault wears a mask
Few Quebecers wore masks in the pandemic’s early days.
So it was jarring the first time Premier François Legault unexpectedly showed up masked at a news conference on May 12, 2020. Some of his comments that day proved to be inaccurate. For example, he said washing hands was more important than wearing masks. And he insisted masks protected not the wearer but only those around them. Both statements ultimately proved to be incorrect.
But Legault’s decision to don a mask jolted some people into covering their faces. For others, it sets the stage for the transition toward masking. Legault urged people to wear masks when visiting loved ones, shopping and especially on public transit.
The premier smiled awkwardly, looking sheepish as he removed the mask (a hand-made gift from a constituent, it had fabric ties).
Legault acknowledged the uneasiness many Quebecers felt putting on their first mask. “Obviously at the beginning, it’s weird to see people with masks. But we’ll get used to them. It’s a good habit that will allow us to return to a life that’s a bit more normal.” Legault would go on to impose a mask mandate on all indoor places on July 18, 2020.
Twenty-two months later, it’s the last pandemic restriction in place, set to be dropped on Saturday (except on public transit).
Strange: Arruda dances to rap song in viral video
What was he thinking?
Weeks into a pandemic that was killing hundreds of Quebecers weekly, one wouldn’t expect this headline about the province’s public health director: “Arruda offers tearful apology for his involvement in viral dance video.”
The bizarre story began when a Quebec rapper — Rod le Stod — asked Dr. Horacio Arruda to submit a video of himself enjoying a “lockdown dance” to a tune titled “Oragio.” The doctor obliged and the video went viral. Clad in a black tuque and tight black t-shirt, Arruda grooved rhythmically as the rapper repeats the refrain: “Everywhere on earth there’s an oragio / My lightning rod is Horacio / We are lucky to have François Legault / Suspend all my rights, I give you the go.”
Mocked and chastised, Arruda choked up as he publicly apologized on May 12, 2020, saying he didn’t realize the video would be shared widely and had not listened to all the lyrics.
Charismatic, dapper and expressive, Arruda contrasted with the staid politicians around him at briefings, helping turn him into a star early in the pandemic. But as the crisis dragged on he was criticized for meandering, sometimes opaque, answers, as well as his slow response to some COVID-19 waves.
Arruda was replaced in January by Dr. Luc Boileau. Arruda, who was always accompanied by Premier François Legault or a minister, Boileau has been allowed to hold solo press conferences.
Bright: Vaccination begins
It seemed like the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
On Dec. 14, 2020, Gloria Lallouz, 78, became the first Montrealer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine amid a heady atmosphere at the Maimonides long-term care home in Côte-St-Luc.
News photographers scrambled to get shots of a UPS driver dropping off boxes of Pfizer-BioNTech shots at a back door. A throng of reporters waited out front.
“I’m so happy,” Lallouz told them after her jab. It was the first time she had left her room in eight months. Sitting in a wheelchair as the provincial and federal health ministers looked on, she urged everyone to get vaccinated. “It’s important to continue to live — because living like this is not good.”
Hope was high that vaccines would shield Quebecers from the merciless virus, particularly older people whose ranks were being decimated.
“We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel — the finish line,” Health Minister Christian Dubé gushed. Quebecers would learn to take such pronouncements with a grain of salt. At the time, few imagined the pandemic would drag into 2022, with a fourth vaccine dose on offer.
However, time would tell that COVID-19 vaccines, developed at record speed, are highly effective, with experts saying they reduce the number of people requiring hospitalization and saved lives.
Surreal: Quebecers under curfew for weeks
Looking back, it’s hard to believe this actually happened: for weeks on end, Quebecers weren’t allowed to leave their homes at night due to curfews that bookended 2021.
“After 8 pm, we won’t be allowed to go out into the streets except for work.”
With those wordsPremier François Legault told a stunned province he had taken the unprecedented decision to impose an overnight curfew until 5 am, starting on Jan. 9, 2021. Citing rising cases and swamped hospitals, a stern Legault said the province had to restrict people’s movements because “there are still too many visits in homes.”
Quebec appears to have been the only jurisdiction in North America and one of the few in the world to take such a drastic step. The homeless, people without yards or balconies and shift workers who couldn’t go for a walk when they got home were among those disproportionately affected.
The curfew was lifted earlier in some regions, but in Montreal, it was in place for 139 days (111 more than Legault originally promised), ending on May 28, 2021.
Legault relied on the same playbook on Dec. 31, 2021, imposing a new curfew as the province panicked over newly skyrocketing case counts. This time, it was much shorter – 17 days – as fed-up Quebecers took a bite out of Legault’s approval rating.
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