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A paramedic opens the door to an ambulance outside a hospital in Montreal, on Dec. 28, 2020.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebecers should not expect a return to normal life any time soon despite a recent reduction in new COVID-19 cases, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday as he warned that most current restrictions will be extended past Feb. 8.

Legault said he’ll announce a certain “relaxing” of the rules in some regions in the coming days, but warned that the easing is expected to be minor due to the continued high number of hospitalizations in the province.

“We have to be realistic: the majority of measures will remain,” he told a news conference in Quebec City.

While cases and hospitalizations have been slowly trending downward in recent weeks, Legault said the decline isn’t enough to allow hospitals to begin catching up on the backlog of surgeries and other procedures that have been put off due to the pandemic.

Legault singled out the province’s 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew as a measure that is “working well,” suggesting that it was likely to be among the rules that is extended when the announcement is made next week.

Legault said he believes the curfew has been successful in stopping would-be rule-breakers from gathering in private homes, although he later admitted there’s “no direct proof” that the measure is more effective than the other actions his government has taken, such as closing non-essential businesses and telling people to work from home.

Quebec is the only province in Canada to impose a curfew, which was originally put in place for a four-week period beginning Jan. 9.

Legault continued to keep up his pressure on the federal government to either ban non-essential international travel or force travellers to quarantine in hotels at their own cost amid the threat of new variants of COVID-19 which are wreaking havoc in several countries.

He said the Quebec government had explored the idea of imposing the supervised quarantine measure at the provincial level but had been told by lawyers that such a decree would likely face a court challenge.

The province’s public health director, Horacio Arruda, said officials had detected a seventh case of the more contagious U.K. variant of the virus in Quebec.

He said that while it will be “almost impossible” to prevent more cases of the variant from surfacing in Quebec, authorities are hoping the vaccination campaign will limit its impact.

Earlier Thursday, the province’s statistics agency reported that the pandemic had contributed to a 10 per cent jump in the number of deaths in Quebec in 2020 over the previous year.

The Institut de la statistique du Quebec noted in its report that 74,550 people died last year in Quebec, which is 6,750 more than in 2019.

The agency said it’s normal for the number of deaths to rise every year because of Quebec’s growing and aging population, but it considers a jump of this magnitude to be “an exception.” Between 2010 and 2019, the increase had been about two per cent per year.

“The rise in the number of deaths in Quebec in 2020 is linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of which were particularly marked between the end of the month of March and the beginning of the month of June,” the institute wrote on its site.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Quebec has continued to rise in recent weeks, even as cases and hospitalizations have been slowly declining. The province reported 39 additional deaths on Thursday, including eight in the past 24 hours.

Hospitalizations declined by 26 to 1,264, while the number of people in intensive care dropped by nine to 212 – continuing the slow downward trend of the past week.

The province reported 1,368 new COVID-19 cases, contributing to another drop in the seven-day daily average of new cases, which stands at 1,400.

Two deaths were reclassified after an investigation found they were unrelated to COVID-19, which means there have been a total of 9,667 deaths and 258,698 cases in Quebec since the pandemic began.

Legault announced Thursday that March 11 will be a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives to the virus.

The province gave 3,767 doses of vaccine on Wednesday, and has used up all but about 5,100 of the 238,100 doses it has received so far.

Quebec is not expected to receive any new doses this week amid a major manufacturer’s slowdown that has interrupted supply across the country.

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