MONTREAL -- Quebec's courthouses will gradually reopen beginning Monday following weeks of pandemic-induced shutdowns, Justice Minister Sonia LeBel announced Thursday.

Courtrooms will have reduced seating capacity in order to conform to physical distancing requirements, she said, adding that Plexiglas has been installed inside the rooms to protect clerks and judges.

The justice system had been operating in a limited way throughout the pandemic, with about 126 "virtual courtrooms" holding judicial proceedings, LeBel explained. She said the pandemic accelerated the justice system's digital transformation, with the increased use of remote court proceedings, and of software to sign and distribute documents electronically.

"The system will not go back to the way it was," she told reporters in Quebec City, without offering specifics.

Quebec reported 74 additional COVID-19 deaths Thursday, bringing the provincial total to 4,302. There were 563 new cases of the virus confirmed in the past 24 hours for a total of 49,702 since the pandemic began.

The situation remains difficult within seniors homes, which accounted for 70 of the 74 new deaths recorded Thursday.

Quebec has about 2,600 facilities for seniors, including private residences and long-term care homes, and there is at least one resident infected with COVID-19 in 340 of them, Legault said. More than 2,700 people in those centres are currently infected with the virus.

Forty-one long-term care homes have a minimum of 15 per cent of residents infected with COVID-19, "and it's those that we are focusing on particularly closely."

More than 1,000 soldiers are deployed in 25 of the province's hardest-hit long-term care homes. The military released a report on the observations of its soldiers in those homes on Wednesday. It detailed three main problems inside Quebec's long-term care homes: improper separation between areas with COVID-19 infections and those without; failure to properly wear personal protective equipment, or PPE; and severe staffing shortages.

Legault said his government is launching advertising campaigns next week with the goal of recruiting 10,000 people to work as orderlies in the province's long-term care homes by mid-September.

But outside the senior residences, the infection rate is decreasing, even in Montreal, the epicentre of the virus in Canada. The number of daily new cases of COVID-19 in that city has been decreasing for one week.

Legault said another piece of good news is that the province's hospitals have 173 fewer COVID-19 patients than they did a week ago. The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 declined by 47 Thursday, the ninth straight day of reductions in the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients.

Six fewer people were in intensive care, for a total of 178, and 15,618 people are classified as having recovered from the disease.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020.