Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced Thursday that elementary schools in the Montreal region will only reopen in September.
Legault said the COVID-19 situation in Montreal, including the number of deaths and hospitalizations, as well as the level of testing for COVID-19, remained too precarious.
"We've concluded that the conditions are not met to reopen elementary schools in the Montreal region," Legault said, noting that "the (COVID-19) situation is under control outside of Montreal, but it remains fragile here."
However, he added that daycares in the Montreal region will reopen June 1, a week later than had been scheduled.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said she concurred with Quebec's decision to push back the school reopenings, calling it "the right thing to do."
The Greater Montreal area - including Laval and the South Shore - remains the only region in the province where elementary schools, daycares and non-essential stores remain closed.
They were all scheduled to reopen May 25, but Legault had said he would not hesitate to push that date back if the COVID-19 situation in the area was not under control..
Non-essential stores could still reopen in the Montreal area on May 25, Legault said, but with strict public-health measures in place. A decision on stores is expected in the coming days, the premier added
"We'll still give ourselves a few days to take a decision regarding the retail businesses," Legault said. "A crucial element that would help us to reopen is for the majority of people to start wearing a mask in public.
"I strongly recommend that we do so."
High schools, CEGEPS and unversitiies in Quebec are already scheduled to reopen in the fall.
Legault acknowledged that these have been especially challenging times for people in the Montreal area, and expressed his gratitude to them.
"I know it's been tough for people in the Montreal region," Legault said. "Thank you for your discipline. Thank you for your patience."
Legault's visit to Montreal - his first in some two months - brought him to the epicentre of COVID-19 in Quebec; more than 2,000 people in Montreal have died of the disease during the pandemic, more than 60 per cent of the COVID-19 fatalities in the province.
Legault took some responsibility for the repeated failures to bring the contagion in Montreal under control, especially within the city's long-term care homes, where the majority of the province's deaths have occurred. But it's Quebecers as a whole, he said, who have let this happen to Montreal.
"I think the society failed," he told reporters.
There are three times more seniors in long-term care homes in Quebec, per capita, "than anywhere else in the world," Legault said. Those centres were underfunded and understaffed for years, he continued, and the people who worked there were underpaid.
Hundreds of members of the Canadian Armed Forces have now been dispatched to the province's long-term care homes to help feed and care for the residents. Legault confirmed Thursday that the Forces' mandate had been extended until June 12.
Legault said the province is also close to the goal he set last week of administering 14,000 tests per day. He said the province conducted 13,291 tests on May 12.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said when the data comes in for the number of tests administered on May 13, "I expect us to go over or hit the number that we set."
Data from the province's institute for public health, however, said only 6,401 individual people had been tested on May 13. Some people are tested multiple times a day, according to the Institut national de sante publique, such as health workers.
Mylene Drouin, head of public health in Montreal, said the city has surpassed its goal of conducting more than 3,000 tests a day. She said 3,411 tests were conducted May 12.
In addition to his daily briefing, Legault held private meetings with Plante and the heads of Quebec's regional health centres.
THE DAILY NUMBERS
There are now 3,351 people who have died of COVID-19 in Quebec, health authorities announced Thursday, as confirmed cases in the province reached 40,724.
That’s up 131 from the 3,220 deaths reported Wednesday; COVID-19 cases in Quebec rose 793 from the 39,931 announced a day earlier.
There are 1,834 people being treated for COVID-19 in Quebec hospitals as of Thursday, down 42 from the 1,876 reported Wednesday. Of those in a hospital, 190 are in intensive care, down four from the 194 reported 24 hours earlier.
There are 2,747 people waiting for COVID-19 test results in Quebec as of Thursday, up 965 from the 1,782 reported Wednesday.
The number of people in Quebec who have recovered from COVID-19 as of Thursday was 10,829, up 359 from the 10,470 recoveries reported a day earlier.
- The Canadian Press contributed to this report