MONTREAL -- Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Monday that reopening schools and stores in the Montreal area too soon could lead to an "explosion" of COVID-19 cases and said those reopenings could once again be postponed.

Legault said the situation in Montreal - which as of Monday accounted for more than half the cases of COVID-19 in Quebec - remained "worrisome" and was being monitored closely by public health authorities.

Should those officials deem it unsafe to reopen elementary schools, daycares and stores as planned on May 25, Legault said he would not hesitate to put off those reopenings as long as needed - even suggesting that elementary schools and daycares could eventually reopen only in September, when high schools, CEGEPS and universities are scheduled to reopen.

Non-essential stores in the rest of Quebec, where the incidence of COVID-19 is significantly lower than in the Montreal area, reopened May 4, while elementary schools and daycares outside of the Montreal region reopened Monday.

Montreal stores were initially scheduled to reopen Monday, but that date was initially postponed until May 18 and then pushed back until May 25. Montreal-area elementary schools and daycares were initially scheduled to reopen May 19 but those reopenings were also postponed until May 25.

On Friday, projections issued by Quebec's institute of public health (INSPQ) suggested that planned deconfinement measures in Montreal could lead to 150 deaths and 10,000 cases of COVID-19 a day.

The INSPQ projections confirmed the precarious COVID-19 situation in the Montreal area, Legault said.

"I want to be very clear on that we are all worried with the situation in Montreal," Legault said. "I’m the first to be worried. What we can see is that if there were (deconfinement), there would be a major risk of explosion of cases and hospitalizations."

"But we are going to be following science, we're going to be following the results," Legault added. "We are not going to take any risks. But if the situation is not under control in Montreal, we will delay the opening of businesses, schools and daycare centres."

 Legault also pushed back against calls to isolate Montreal from the rest of Quebec.

"I heard a lot, over the weekend, from people who don't live in greater Montreal, who are afraid that people from Montreal will come to their region," Legault told reporters in Quebec City Monday.

He said if people stay two metres apart from each other, "there is no danger that someone from Montreal comes and infects you."

"I don't want Quebecers to start fighting with one another and for there to be divisions between Montreal and the rest of Quebec .... We are one people."

There are now 3,013 people who have died of COVID-19 in Quebec, health authorities announced Monday, as confirmed cases in the province reached 38,469.

That’s up 85 from the 2,928 deaths reported Sunday; COVID-19 cases in Quebec rose 748 from the 37,721 announced a day earlier.

Out of the 86 new deaths, 82 were in the Greater Montreal area.

There are 1,838 people being treated for COVID-19 in Quebec hospitals as of Monday, up seven from the 1,831 reported Sunday. Of those in a hospital, 193 are in intensive care, down six from the 199 reported 24 hours earlier.

There are 2,012 people waiting for COVID-19 test results in Quebec as of Monday, up 32 from the 1,980 reported Sunday.

The number of people in Quebec who have recovered from COVID-19 as of Monday was 9,703, up 177 from the 9,526 recoveries reported a day earlier.

With 19,492 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Montreal area remains the hardest hit in Quebec. You can see a regional breakdown of COVID-19 in the province here.


- The Canadian Press contributed to this report