MONTREAL -- As millions feel the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, losing their jobs, closing their businesses temporarily or seeing their stock portfolios plunge, Premier Francois Legault is urging the population to support Quebec businesses.

Legault made the plea on Thursday at a press conference where he announced a $2.5 billion relief plan for businesses consisting of loans and a delay on filing provincial tax returns to Sept. 1, in line with the federal government's deferred date.

"We can't save all businesses," the premier declared, "but we're going to do the most we can."

When buying in-person or online, Quebecers should seek out products made in Quebec, Legault urged. If everyone rallies and buys local, Quebec businesses will feel less of an economic slump.

The shutdown of society to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has stopped the economy in its tracks. Some sectors, like aerospace and tourism, Legault said, have ground to an almost complete halt. And while people's health is the most important thing, he added, Quebecers need to eat and live -- for that, it takes revenue.

But the pandemic would be temporary. At some point, though it is unclear when, Legault said, the economy will rebound.

What is needed, he explained, is a bridge of sorts: something to allow businesses to make it through the tumultuous pandemic so that when people emerge from isolation, the Quebec economy can recover.

The loans made available to Quebec businesses as part of Thursday's announcement should ease their financial woes, Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard added. In total, the provincial government has contributed $11 billion in measures meant to sustain the economy through the crisis, Girard said. Labour Minister Jean Boulet announced earlier this week a program to give those in self-isolation $573 weekly for two weeks if they don't qualify for employment insurance.

Pierre Fitzgibbon, minister of the economy, said the economy was experiencing an unprecedented shock. "A part of the economy has literally stopped," he said, noting that many businesses, particularly in rural Quebec, lacked funds.  

The province also announced it will follow suit with the federal government and reduce by 25 per cent the minimum withdrawal amount for registered retirement income funds this year.

With a report from The Canadian Press.