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A mother hands over a box of sanitized wipes to her daughter in the school yard of the Bancroft Elementary School as students go back to school in Montreal, on Aug. 31, 2020.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Premier François Legault is warning Quebeckers they must be more vigilant with pandemic rules to stop a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases or they may set off a second coronavirus wave that could force the shutdown of schools.

Quebec reported 140 cases Monday, the third straight day of new cases totalling more than 100, ending a month of August that frequently had case counts well less than 100, and as low as 62 one week ago. The province has joined others such as Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia that have had recent rises in cases.

“I’m calling on all Quebeckers to follow the rules. There’s a general relaxation. It’s normal, people have been making a big effort for six months. They are tired,” Mr. Legault said during his first appearance in several weeks at Quebec’s official COVID-19 briefing. “But we don’t want to end up back in confinement. Above all – above all – we don’t want to close schools. We owe it to our children that they can stay in school, we have to be prudent and disciplined.”

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“Our children have to stay in school, at least until Christmas.”

While Quebec’s case counts are far from the spring peaks of more than 1,000 daily cases, the timing of the increase in community-spread coronavirus is particularly concerning because nearly a million students are already back at school. Most other provinces will begin school later in September.

Since the Quebec school reopening, public-health officials have counted COVID-19 cases among children and teachers from at least a dozen schools. Scores of students have been sent home, either temporarily because of a lack of substitute teachers or into preventive isolation. Some of the cases were reported before school even started. Officials say other cases are isolated and likely originated outside the schools at this early stage of the academic year.

“It’s the effect of summer holidays more than the effect of schools, but there is a potential for a multiplication effect that worries us. We don’t want it to snowball,” said Richard Massé of Quebec Public Health, who added official public-health tracking of school cases will start later this week.

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Dr. Massé said the new cases have come from across the province and a wide range of activities and venues including sports, bars, restaurants, private parties and weddings. A previous rise in cases in July was blamed on Montreal bar patrons and partygoers. It was quickly tamped down after a warning that prompted thousands of young adults to line up for tests.

However, Health Minister Christian Dubé reserved special attention for the Bar Kirouac in Quebec City, where he blamed karaoke for one of the larger current outbreaks. “It’s 10 of our 140 cases today and will be about 15 of our cases tomorrow. People have to realize this is not acceptable,” Mr. Dubé said. “They were passing around a microphone! This is how a second wave starts.”

Mr. Dubé said 76 of the 140 cases announced Monday were linked to specific venues such as weddings, parties, bars and restaurants. “We don’t know for the other individual cases. We need to keep improving on our tracing system,” he said.

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The government, as well as parents, coaches and organizers, are wrestling with how to organize activities outside school. On Friday, Mr. Legault relaxed rules to allow schools with integrated sports and arts programs to go forward as of Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, organizers announced Monday they are cancelling the annual international peewee hockey tournament in Quebec City that over the decades has launched legends such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux to prominence. The tournament usually plays host to 2,500 players from around the world and sells about 230,000 tickets over 12 days. “Holding the event would have resulted in an $800,000 deficit. We can’t run that kind of deficit,” the organizers said in a statement.

Under Quebec’s COVID-19 rules, crowds for public events such as hockey games are limited to 250 people. Masks are required in indoor public venues unless patrons are seated and separated, such as at restaurants and bars. Private gatherings are limited to 10 people.

Schools in Quebec are returning with normal-sized classes organized into bubbles separate from other classes, but no distancing is required among students within classes. Full-time online learning is available only to students with health conditions and a doctor’s note.

Globe health columnist André Picard and senior editor Nicole MacIntyre discuss the many issues surrounding sending kids back to school. André says moving forward isn't about there being no COVID-19 cases, but limiting their number and severity through distancing, smaller classes, masks and good hygiene. The Globe and Mail

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