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People take part in a demonstration opposing the mandatory wearing of face masks in Montreal, Saturday, September 12, 2020.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebecers faced the prospect of hefty fines starting Saturday if they don’t wear a mask in places the province has deemed it mandatory due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police can hand out tickets ranging between $400 and $6,000 to those who don’t have a face covering in indoor public spaces or on public transit.

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The province announced its intention to introduce fines earlier this week, with a ministerial decree being adopted Friday.

The decree specifies that a face covering is understood as a “mask or tightly fitting cloth that covers the nose and the mouth.”

On Saturday, the province announced 244 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections to 64,707.

Despite the rising infections, thousands of demonstrators opposed to the government’s face covering rules rallied in Montreal on Saturday, marching from Premier Francois Legault’s office in downtown Montreal to the CBC-Radio-Canada offices near the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.

The premier said earlier this week the fines were aimed at those in the minority who weren’t following the rules, but they wouldn’t apply to anti-mask protests primarily held outdoors.

The fines for individuals are similar amounts to those that business owners faced when the province brought in mandatory masks for indoor spaces in July.

Face coverings have been mandatory on public transit and in indoor public spaces across the province since July, but enforcement in indoor public spaces was initially left to business owners.

The province announced several measures this week in addition to the fines, including the banning of karaoke and obliging bars to keep registers of clients. The moves came amid concerns about rising infection numbers in recent days.

Cases were on the rise in Montreal, the Eastern Townships, the Monteregie region south of Montreal and in the Lower St-Lawrence, where private parties involving junior college students earlier this month are believed to be behind a rising number of cases in the past three days. The area was largely unscathed by the novel coronavirus in the spring.

Two other post-secondary institutions — junior colleges in Rimouski and Riviere-du-Loup, Que. — suspended courses for one week and will resume online as of Sept. 21.

The junior college in La Pocatiere and the agri-food technology institute announced Thursday they would closed until Sept. 24 and move classes online because of the outbreak in the region.

The province reported no deaths in the past day, but added six deaths from earlier in the month for a total of 5,780.

Authorities say 57,054 people are deemed to have recovered from the virus.

Quebec also saw the number of people in hospital increase by two to 125 and an increase of four patients in intensive care for a total of 16.

The province conducted 25,692 tests on Thursday, the last day for which numbers were available.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2020.

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