MONTREAL -- Several police cars patrolled the Outremont and Mile End areas of Montreal Saturday, ensuring that religious gatherings by Hasidic Jews were cancelled as ordered by the Quebec government.

While many Hasidic men did walk to local synagogues starting around 8 a.m., trying to open doors to go inside, they found those doors were locked. In some cases, there were signs in Hebrew indicating houses of worship were closed.

Last Saturday police were called to a building housing a Mikveh in Outremont after someone said they saw people going inside, but found no one.

But they were concerned about whether people might be behind a locked door inside the building.

Through a member of the community, they were able to contact the rabbi who had the combination to the door lock. After threatening a fine if the combination was not handed over, they were asked to go the rabbi’s home a few blocks away.

Since Saturday is the Sabbath and orthodox Jews cannot use electricity, he needed police to turn on his cell phone, where he had stored the combination number for the door lock.

Police entered the home wearing masks and gloves and emerged 10 minutes later with the rabbi, who walked to the synagogue while police drove. He opened the locked door, and police confirmed there was no one inside. As the rabbi emerged, he told CTV News that, in his view, police had done the right thing.

Montreal’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community has been hit hard by COVID-19. The first recorded death in Montreal was a Hasidic man who lived in Outremont. He died last Wednesday from complications, after falling ill with the novel coronavirus Tuesday night.

The recent holiday of Purim saw many community members travel back and forth from New York, the epicentre of the U.S. outbreak.

It’s also a time when there are many marriages, and there is at least one known case of someone who later tested positive for the virus having attended a large wedding at a synagogue in Westmount.

On some streets, Jewish families took to their balconies on Saturday morning to pray with their neighbours, to ensure they had what in Hebrew is known as a minyan, a quorum of 10 adult men required by Jewish law for public prayers.

The sounds of prayers, including the mourner’s prayer, could be heard echoing down the street.