As the region slowly reopens, public transit authorities and local officials in Montreal and Laval are handing out thousands of free masks to commuters in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The measure comes as an effort to encourage people to wear the face coverings while out in public and on public transit, where keeping a two-metre distance, as recommended by public health officials, is difficult.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the initiative is important because it gives the city the ability to provide masks to people who may not otherwise be able to acquire one even though masks are not obligatory.

“I don’t want Montreal to become a police state,” she said. “That’s not what I’m looking for. I want people to take their responsibility and to be disciplined, and they are doing so.

Story continues below advertisement

“So I want to encourage them and make sure nobody is left behind because they don’t have access to a mask.”

READ MORE: Montreal-area retail stores reopen as coronavirus lockdown eases

The Greater Montreal area,