MONTREAL -- With Montreal North now the borough hardest hit by COVID-19, the city is ramping up testing capacity there starting Friday.

A testing centre in the district will be open to anyone living there who has symptoms of the novel coronavirus—the first time in about a month that tests have been available to the general public in Montreal, based purely on their symptoms, though the offer is now limited to Montreal North.

The Montreal North testing clinic will be open seven days a week, but people wanting a test must make an appointment by phone at 514-644-4545.

Montreal North has the highest per-capita rate of infections in the city, with 1,153 cases as of Thursday—nearly a tenth of the city’s total.

Mayor Valerie Plante said the city is also working on setting up a mobile testing facility, calling additional testing the "key to understand the transmission modes and to act consequently."

Plante warned that much work needs to be done in Montreal North before schools can reopen. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has set the date of May 19 as the goal for reopening schools throughout Montreal. 

"If the public health experts conclude that the restart date is too early, I will support that unconditionally," said Plante. "If authorities consider it necessary to postpone, we're not going to object."

Plante announced several additional measures for Montreal North, including the distribution of informational fliers as well as face coverings in the area. 

On Wednesday, local politicians and the Liberal opposition called for increased testing across Montreal and particularly in Montreal North, given the high rates of infection there. Increased testing will be vital if Montreal is to follow Premier Francois Legault’s plan for reopening the economy, they said.

A large proportion of healthcare workers live in Montreal North, among other reasons the neighbourhood has been hit especially hard, pointed out Paule Robitaille, the MNA for Bourassa-Sauvé.

This is the first time in several weeks that public health authorities have offered testing to the public at large in a certain district.

In mid-March, after the virus first arrived in Montreal, the city was testing people based only on their symptoms at sites like the Quartier des Spectacles drive-through facility, said a spokesman for Montreal’s public health authority. But as the case load grew and tests became scarcer, they were reserved for hospital workers and other people who met a strict set of criteria.

Montreal North will now be the only place in the city where residents can get a test simply if they show signs of COVID-19, said the spokesman.

“Increasing the capacity for testing will provide a more accurate portrait of the situation in this part of the city,” said Montreal public officials in a news release.

Local organizations in Montreal North will also be making efforts to contact the population and let them know testing will be more widely available, said the release. 

On Wednesday, health officials announced a range of other new measures they were bringing to Montreal North to help bring the situation under control.