Montreal, once the centre of the pandemic, is starting to feel normal again

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Even in normal times, Marc Saint-Cyr has a hard time sitting at home and not doing anything. So when the pandemic struck, the hardest part for the 71-year-old was being told he couldn’t leave his house, not even to do his own groceries.

But outside a Côte-des-Neiges community centre Tuesday morning, Saint-Cyr was back in his element, volunteering to pick weeds and plant flowers in its garden. And though he’s not quite ready for private gatherings, last week he went to a restaurant with his wife — a first in over a year.

“The lack of social contact was hard, but now everything is restarting,” Saint-Cyr said, wiping soil from his blue knee pads during a short break. “It feels good just to see people out and about again.”

It’s now been a little over a week that Montreal has been under the “green” level of Quebec’s pandemic alert system, the least restrictive of all levels. Among other changes, the shift has meant looser restrictions around indoor and outdoor gatherings, and restaurants and bars being allowed to welcome more customers.

Though Montreal is not yet its old self, the steady drop in new COVID-19 cases and loosening of restrictions has allowed the city — once the Canadian epicentre of the pandemic — to gradually come back to life. Around town on Tuesday, terrasses were bursting with patrons while families flocked to parks and public spaces, holding picnics and crowding splash pads.

In early afternoon, Gino Dini, owner of Café Conca d’Oro in the city’s Little Italy neighbourhood, was busy prepping the place for Tuesday’s Euro 2020 semi-final pitting Italy against Spain.

Dini said the Euro and the Montreal Canadiens’ unexpected Stanley Cup playoff success coinciding with the reopening has been a blessing for local cafés and bars when they needed it the most.