MONTREAL -- Restaurants and bars staged a symbolic reopening Saturday, seeking to remind patrons and politicians alike of the dining experience after 14 months dominated by COVID-19 shutdowns.

The faux reopening -- no food was served on site -- came after Quebec bar owners called on the government last month to allow them to unlock their doors for patrons who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

"The goal is to make the government aware that eventually we will die if we continue to close," Pierre Leveque, owner of Chez Leveque in Outremont, said of the staged reopening.

Founded in 1972, the Parisian-style brasserie employed up to 50 people before first shutting its doors on March 17, 2020.

Sous vide dishes like coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon adorn the blackboard menu above a row of tables draped in white cloths. In the window, bottles of chardonnay and shiraz bracket a vase overflowing with corks and capped with plastic pears and peppers.

"People can come in and visit us like an old piece of art, because people have tended to almost forget what it's like to go into a restaurant," said manager Yann Nkanko.

"At this rate, we could almost tell people, 'Hey, look, this used to be a table. People used to come in and sit down."'

Two associations representing bar owners wrote to Premier Francois Legault in a letter dated April 29 to say modifying the public health order that has closed bars since October would bring some much-needed reprieve for the hard-hit sector.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante on Thursday asked the provincial government to open restaurant and bar terraces on June 1. But Health Minister Christian Dube told reporters that officials must "be prudent about making commitments."

Legault has said Quebec will unveil a "reopening roadmap" within weeks.

Quebec's overall health situation remains relatively stable, with the number of new COVID-19 cases remaining below 1,000 and hospitalizations on the decline, despite an impending lockdown in one region.

The province said the Estrie region will see its alert level rise from orange to red -- the maximum -- on Monday, resulting in tighter restrictions after its case numbers jumped by 83 per cent over the past week.

The new classification means restaurants and gyms must close and places of worship will cap capacity at 25 people.

Health authorities say schools will remain open, but students in their third, fourth and final year of high school will attend class every other day, starting May 12.

Outdoor sports are limited to groups of eight or those who live at the same address. Indoor sports can be done solo, in pairs or among residents of the same home at swimming pools, stating rinks and tennis and badminton courts. Training gyms will be closed.

New cases in Estrie climbed to 86 from 47 over the past six days.

Health officials reported 958 new COVID-19 infections and seven deaths across Quebec on Saturday, marking the sixth consecutive day new cases have fallen short of 1,000.

Hospitalizations fell by 27 to 547, while the number of patients in intensive care declined by nine to 130.

Active cases dropped to 8,655 from 8,737, officials said.

Montreal reported the most new cases with 204; followed by Monteregie, south of Montreal, with 131; and Chaudiere-Appalaches with 123 cases.

Officials lowered the vaccine eligibility age on Thursday to residents 35 and up. The government has said all adults will be able to book an appointment by mid-May.

The province says it administered just over 91,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for a total of more than 4.1 million doses injected across the province so far.

Slightly more than 40 per cent of Quebec's population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2021.