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Ludovic Beaupre prepares his terrace for reopening, in Montreal, on May 27, 2021.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

For the first time since the end of September, Montrealers were able to eat at restaurants – though only outside – as Quebec took the first steps in its pandemic reopening plan Friday.

In the city’s trendy Plateau neighbourhood, restaurant patios filled up during the lunch hour. Julien Leclerc, a customer at Taverne St-Sacrement on Mont-Royal Avenue, said he planned to stay out into the evening.

“I missed the human touch, being close to someone, talking to them,” he said in an early afternoon interview. “For me to be able to do that again, I don’t have the words. I am thrilled to be around people again.”

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Despite temperatures in the low teens, Lauriane Dubois, the manager of the Pizzedelic restaurant on Mont-Royal Avenue, said she expected customers would still be willing to sit outside.

“Even though, because of the weather, some people don’t think it’s going to be busy, I think people are going to come with their sleeping bag and snowsuit if they can! We will have people until very late tonight, I’m sure,” she said. “People just want to be sat down and served and get back to their old habits.”

In Montreal, and other regions under Quebec’s two highest alert levels, the patio reopening comes with strict rules. Tables will be limited to occupants of a single residence, or two adults with their minor children and alcohol can only be served with meals.

Quebec’s curfew – which had been set at 9:30 p.m. – was also lifted Friday. A curfew has been in effect in most of the province since Jan. 9. Gatherings of up to eight people on private property are also now permitted and large venues can have up to 2,500 people, meaning there will be fans at Saturday’s playoff hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Quebec’s public health institute said earlier on Friday that the province is likely to avoid another wave of novel coronavirus if people follow health orders.

“What we see from the models is that the reopening plan could work well, but as long as the public follows the speed of the reopening plan and doesn’t get ahead of what’s been put on the table,” Jocelyne Sauve, vice-president for scientific affairs at the Institut national de sante publique du Quebec, told reporters.

Models released by the institute project a gradual drop in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in all parts of the province over the rest of the spring and summer, if people follow the rules closely.

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If the rules aren’t followed, Marc Brisson, a professor at Universite Laval who does modelling for the public health institute, said the number of cases could begin to rise again in June – particularly among children and adults not yet vaccinated.

The models estimate that the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the fall will depend on vaccination rates. If 89 per cent of people over 12 are fully vaccinated, there would be a minimal rise in new cases and hospitalizations when schools reopen.

But if just 71 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated by the fall, and assuming the number of daily contacts between people are at pre-pandemic levels, then Quebec could be reporting 1,000 new cases a day by October, followed by dozens of new hospitalizations.

“It’s very important to continue to follow the public health measures as we get out of lockdown and to have the highest vaccination coverage possible,” Brisson said. “These two elements will have a big impact on how our summer and September will look.”

Quebec has been the only province to impose a curfew, and the province’s Public Security Department said Friday that between Jan. 9 and May 23, police forces in the province issued 20,958 tickets for curfew violations. Fines started at $1,000 plus $550 in additional fees, which would mean penalties potentially totalling more than $30 million.

Quebec reported 419 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and four more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one within the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by nine, to 385, and 91 people were in intensive care, a drop of five.

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The province says it administered 101,094 doses of vaccine Thursday, for a total of 5,306,336; about 58 per cent of Quebeckers have received at least one dose.

Ontario to speed up second-dose eligibility, starting with those 80 and older next week

Procurement confirms 15 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines

Procurement Minister Anita Anand says Canada has confirmed shipments of 15 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines from three suppliers.

She says every eligible Canadian will have access to a second dose by the end of the summer.

She says 2.4 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech will arrive each week over five weeks in June and nine million more will arrive in July.

As announced yesterday, she says Moderna has provided an updated delivery schedule for the first part of June, with 500,000 doses in two shipments starting next week.

She also says 1.5 million doses of Moderna are arriving the week of June 14.

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As for AstraZeneca, she says two million supplementary doses will arrive in Canada by the end of June.

Alberta adds $45-million for students set back by COVID-19 disruptions

The Alberta government is providing up to $45-million to help young students whose learning may have been set back by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money will be available for the upcoming fall school year for up to 50,000 students in Grades 1 to 3.

The program is aimed specifically at students falling behind in literacy and numeracy and is based on studies that suggest such setbacks need to be addressed as early as possible.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says school boards can use the money as they see fit – whether it is for additional teachers or teacher aides, or for one-on-one or group instruction.

The province estimates that 15 per cent of students in the early grades will need extra literacy and numeracy support due to learning disruptions related to COVID.

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That is double the usual number of students who need such help in any given year.

Officials said the program would run for about four months.

“School authorities will assess the students come fall, and when they have the numbers they will apply to my department and we will roll the money out,” LaGrange told reporters Friday.

“It will certainly be up to the school authorities to determine how they’re going to spend those dollars [and] how they’re going to roll out those programs.”

For the last 15 months, students in all grades have alternated between online and in-class learning as Alberta grappled with three waves of surging COVID-19 cases.

Opposition NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said the money is “too little, too late” from a government that laid off school support staff at the start of the pandemic, failed to deliver consistent support since, and is not funding for enrolment growth.

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“This yo-yo between in-person and online learning that has left kids to go through a lot of chaos over the last 15 months – everyone being sent home at least three times – has absolutely hurt learning,” said Hoffman.

“Staff, teachers [and] parents have done an amazing job in supporting children during this difficult time, but [Premier] Jason Kenney has not.”

Ford awaits response from dozens of experts, stakeholders before deciding on schools

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’ll only make a decision whether to reopen schools for the final month of the academic year after he hears from numerous experts.

He says he doesn’t want to rely on the advice of the province’s top public health doctor alone.

The chief medical officer, Dr. David Williams, has made it clear that he believes classrooms should reopen.

Ford wrote to dozens of doctors, public health authorities, scientists and teacher unions yesterday, seeking feedback by 5 p.m. today.

He says he’s concerned about reopening schools given the presence of more contagious variants of COVID-19, as well as relatively low rates of vaccinated teachers and students.

Critics say the last-minute letter shows Ford is passing the buck on making a decision about schools.

Ontario’s new COVID-19 cases

Ontario reports there are 1,273 new cases of COVID-19 in the province and 14 more deaths linked to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 269 new cases in Toronto, 268 in Peel Region, and 101 in Ottawa.

The Ministry of Health says 1,023 people are in hospital – 645 in intensive care and 458 on a ventilator.

Ontario says nearly 160,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered since Thursday’s report for a total of more than 8.6 million.

Quebec’s new COVID-19 cases

Quebec is reporting 419 new cases of COVID-19 today and four more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials say hospitalizations dropped by nine, to 385, and 91 people were in intensive care, a drop of five.

The province says it administered over 101,000 doses of vaccine on Thursday, for a total of more than 5.3 million; about 58.1 per cent of Quebeckers have received at least one dose.

The curfew will be lifted tonight and restaurant patios in regions under the province’s two highest pandemic-alert levels are allowed to reopen today.

Modelling predicts slow rate of growth

New COVID-19 modelling unveiled by public health officials today predicts a slowing rate of growth for cumulative cases and a low, steady rate of growth for cumulative deaths.

That means up to 1.4 million cases and 26,310 deaths are expected by June 10.

A longer-range forecast shows the epidemic is projected to decline nationally as long as public health measures are maintained.

Officials say high vaccine uptake is needed across all age groups to prevent a strong resurgence, but there is good progress, with those over 80 surpassing the 20 per cent-mark for second doses.

Manitoba won’t meet COVID-19 vaccine milestone due to delayed shipments: officials

Manitoba is marking another day with surging COVID-19 cases as health officials say disruptions in the supply chain of vaccines means that there will be a delay in hitting a major milestone.

“Our health system is facing critical pressures that is not sustainable,” Dr. Jazz Atwal, the province’s deputy chief provincial public health officer, said Friday.

There were 493 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.

There were also 312 hospitalizations and 69 patients in intensive care. Another 26 Manitobans were in intensive care in other provinces.

Atwal said the continued high number of infections means even more people are expected to end up in hospital.

The province has posted the highest daily case numbers, per capita, in the country for more than a week.

Slightly tightened public health orders that encourage employers to have people work from home and require malls to enforce capacity were to come into effect at midnight.

Atwal said there is hope because more and more people are getting vaccinated.

“It’s dark right now, I get it,” he said. “But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Military to arrive in Manitoba to help support province in fight against COVID-19

A four-week military mission starts today in Manitoba where the third wave of COVID-19 has overwhelmed hospitals.

Strict public health orders have been extended to try to ease the virus’ grip on the province.

Manitoba’s intensive-care units are so full that 26 critical patients have been transferred to Ontario for treatment in the last 10 days.

Saskatchewan is expected to start taking some patients as well.

Fan Expo Canada to hold ‘limited edition event’ in Toronto this fall

An annual convention celebrating pop culture is now set to go ahead in Toronto this fall, but on a smaller scale.

Fan Expo Canada plans to hold what it calls a “limited edition event,” with just 25-thousand tickets available.

It says the event will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in late October, a couple months later than its regularly scheduled time.

Large gatherings are currently banned in Ontario due to COVID-19, and it’s not clear when that ban will be lifted.

New Brunswick unveils plan to lift all COVID-19 restrictions by Aug. 2

New Brunswick has unveiled a plan to have all of its COVID-19 restrictions lifted by August 2.

Provincial Health Minister Dorothy Shephard made the announcement yesterday for the three stage plan.

She says it could be altered if the province falls short of its vaccination targets or there is a sharp rise in hospitalizations linked to the virus.

Shephard said the first stage of loosening pandemic rules could start as early as June 7, so long as 75 per cent of New Brunswickers – aged 12 and over – have received their first dose of vaccine.

‘Critical time for Alberta’ as province reaches 60 per cent COVID-19 vaccine target

The Alberta government says more than 60 per cent of the province’s eligible citizens have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine – a key benchmark in its phased reopening plan.

“The next two weeks will be a critical time for Alberta,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, said in a statement Friday.

“The more we can drive our numbers down in the next few weeks by all following public health measures, and the more Albertans who are protected by immunization, the more successful we will be in our opening.”

Alberta Health says 60.3 per cent of those 12 years and older now have at least one dose.

Vaccine rates and hospitalization numbers are being used to determine the next steps to reduce public health restrictions, with the goal of eliminating almost all barriers to public gatherings and businesses by late June or early July.

There are 517 people in hospital with COVID, a number that has been trending down.

If there are fewer than 500 people in hospital two weeks from now, at the same time the latest vaccinations take full effect, the province will lift an array of health restrictions on June 10 – some of which have been in force for months.

Entertainment venues, including movie theatres, casinos and museums, would be allowed to open at one-third capacity. Restaurants would be allowed to have diners inside and worship services would also rise to 33 per cent maximum capacity.

There would be no restrictions on youth and adult sports. Public gatherings could have up to 150 people, and grandstands for sports and other events would be open at one-third capacity.

This would be the second phase of the three-stage reopening plan announced earlier this week by Premier Jason Kenney. It is the most ambitious in Canada. Comparable provinces such as B.C., Ontario and Quebec are making similar reopening decisions later in the summer.

Alberta’s first phase, tied to having fewer than 800 people in hospital and a 50 per cent vaccination rate, was achieved more than a week ago.

As a result, restrictions announced in early May by Kenney to staunch a third wave of COVID are being rescinded, with most of these changes beginning Tuesday.

At that time, barber shops, hair salons and other personal wellness services will be allowed to reopen to appointments. Outdoor public gatherings will double to 10 people from five. Indoor social gatherings remain banned.

The final stage, with all major restrictions lifted along with no more ban on indoor social gatherings, is tied to 70 per cent getting vaccinated with hospitalization rates continuing to decrease.

Kenney has said the final stage could begin as early as June 28 based on projections of vaccine bookings.

Alberta announced 512 new COVID-19 cases for an active total of 8,760 Friday.

There were seven more deaths, bringing that total to 2,206 since the start of the pandemic.

Earlier Friday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the province will provide up to $45 million to help Grade 1 to 3 students whose learning may have been set back by the COVID-19 pandemic.

LaGrange said school boards can use the money as they see fit – whether it is for additional teachers or teacher aides, or for one-on-one or group instruction.

“It will certainly be up to the school authorities to determine how they’re going to spend those dollars (and) how they’re going to roll out those programs,” LaGrange told reporters.

The province estimates that 15 per cent of students in the early grades will need extra literacy and numeracy support due to learning disruptions related to COVID.

Opposition NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said the money is “too little, too late” from a government that laid off school support staff at the start of the pandemic, failed to deliver consistent support since, and is not funding for enrolment growth.

Auditor-General Karen Hogan says the Public Health Agency of Canada was not as prepared as it should have been for the pandemic. She says it ignored years of warnings that it was mismanaging a national emergency stockpile of medical supplies. The Canadian Press

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