The Quebec government is donating one million masks to hard-hit Montreal as part of the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, the province’s premier announced on Friday.

François Legault said public transit authorities in the Greater Montreal area will also receive $6 million so they can buy masks and hand them out for free to commuters.

Masks aren’t mandatory, but Legault stressed that people should wear them while taking public transit. He said residents in neighbourhoods with high infection rates should wear masks while out in public.

“We know there are neighbourhoods that are more hot in Montreal and Laval; it’s even more important that people in those areas wear a mask,” he said.

READ MORE: Montreal to convert some streets to help pedestrians, cyclists get around amid coronavirus lockdown

Quebec has 41,420 cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, an increase of 696 from the previous day. The respiratory illness has killed 3,401 people, as 50 new deaths were recorded on Friday.

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Legault noted it has been some time since those numbers have been that low as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Montreal, the epicentre of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the province.

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Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of Quebec public health, said that strict social-distancing and lockdown measures have helped prevent even more cases but that the situation remains fragile in Montreal.

“If we do reopen, we will need to be in a better position,” he said.

Quebec has pushed back reopening elementary schools and daycares in the region, citing public health conditions have not yet been met to safely do so by May 25 as previously announced. No firm decision has been made about businesses.

Could long-term care homes be nationalized?

During his visit to Montreal, Legault met with public health authorities to discuss beleaguered long-term care homes and seniors residences.

The disease’s rapid spread in those facilities has been brutal since the beginning of the pandemic, sparking a surge of outbreaks and deaths in many homes.

The health crisis has also shined a light on staffing shortages and elder care in the province, topics that Legault said were addressed during closed-door meetings in Montreal.

READ MORE: Nurses brought Vigi-Santé to court in bid to get better protection for staff at Vigi Mont-Royal

Legault said on Friday that they discussed putting all long-term care homes under the public system and the issue of some long-term care homes not having a senior manager overseeing operations.

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However, the premier said the biggest issue remains attracting and keeping staff in long-term care homes. It’s not just a question of salary, he said, but that personnel need to feel valued.

“The biggest challenge we have is staff,” he said. “It is to attract more orderlies nurses, workers in the health network, especially in CHSLDs.”

Quebec’s health-care system will continue to need more workers as the population ages, he added.

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Coronavirus: No return to school for Montreal area children

Coronavirus: No return to school for Montreal area children

— With files from the Canadian Press

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