Montreal transformed by COVID-19 – “The silent city was no more than an assemblage of huge, inert cubes, between which only the mute effigies of great men, carapaced in bronze, with their blank stone or metal faces, conjured up a sorry semblance of what the man had been.” (Albert Camus, “The Plague”).
Montreal, like most cities around the world now, might be acquiring the looks of the one described in the novel by Albert Camus. Perhaps our city is less populated by statues of important heroes. Still, the other signs are increasingly present, as the pandemic continues its advance. Fewer cars circulate on the streets, fewer people are seen walking too. Definitely, the city life has been transformed by the coronavirus: no more restaurants, no movie theatres, all summer festivals have been cancelled. And this is only the beginning of this unexpected phenomenon that is threatening everyone’s lives: the peak of the pandemic’s effects is expected toward the end of April or first weeks in May.
Paradoxically, while this threat is submerging us in a sea of uncertainties and fear, Montrealers were readying to welcome spring, with all its alluring possibilities: a long weekend out of town, festive gatherings in a park, sharing a few beers at one of their favourite watering holes. Well, nothing of that will be possible now. “In light of COVID-19, the city is announcing the closure of the parc du Mont-Royal parking areas and the closure of île Notre-Dame. These measures are in line with the government of Québec decision to ban all indoor and outdoor gatherings,” reads the City of Montreal press release dated April 5.
The city also has some good news. Since a large part of the population, especially those in the at-risk group (people over 60) are now strongly recommended to stay home, the routine trips to the local grocery store are now being replaced by home delivery. Of course, this was a service available before, but most people preferred to go to the store and make their own selection of the goods wanted. Not anymore: home delivery has now become the norm for many people, bringing enormous pressure on those providing the service. Moreover, some small or medium-size stores didn’t have a system in place for this method of serving customers. Montreal has come to the help of those merchants: “Selling online is necessary now more than ever before. We offer personalized guidance to small businesses, helping you develop an action plan in times of crisis, choose providers, implement an online shopping platform, and more,” the city says in another communiqué. Those businesses interested in this assistance must fill out a form in the website of the Ville de Montréal (check the item “COVID-19: Support measures for Montréal businesses,” form is in French). Homeowners will also get a small respite to pay the second instalment of their city taxes—only a month though—instead of June 1, the deadline will now be July 2. Well, better than nothing, one may say.
Of course, neither the city, nor the other levels of government can do much without the cooperation of ordinary citizens. Good weather may bring the temptation to engage in activities—usually involving groups of people—that one often does in springtime, ignoring safety guidelines. Moreover, some will try to do those things in a defiant attitude. For those, Camus in “The Plague” has some appropriate words: “stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.”