Non-essential stores, personal care salons and museums across Quebec will be allowed to reopen next week, Premier François Legault announced Tuesday following a steady drop in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
But the pressure on hospitals in big cities such as Montreal and Quebec City is too great to justify relaxing restrictions there any further, Legault said, adding that the 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for those regions will remain.
“Unfortunately, the fight is not over,” Legault told reporters. He said hospitals continue to delay about 34 per cent of surgeries to make room for COVID patients. “We think the curfew is a very efficient way to prevent indoor gatherings, especially among people 65 years and older.”
For six of the province’s less-populated regions, however, the lockdown will be eased considerably. Legault said regions including the Gaspe peninsula and the Saguenay area north of Quebec City will be moved to the lower, orange pandemic-alert level.
In those six regions – home to about 10 per cent of Quebec’s population – the curfew’s start will be delayed to 9:30 p.m. and restaurant dining rooms, gyms and indoor sports facilities will be able to reopen on Monday. Cinemas and theatres can begin operating again on Feb. 26, he added.
In restaurants located in orange zones, only two adults – and their children – will be allowed at each table, and reservations will be mandatory, Legault said, to facilitate contact tracing and to prevent people from outside the region from visiting them.
The premier said universities and junior colleges can also begin to gradually reopen across the province next week, but he didn’t provide a timeline. He said the health orders he announced Tuesday will be reviewed in two weeks. But, Legault added, the curfew – which has been in place since Jan. 9 – will likely remain for some time.
“I think it’s one of the reasons for our success,” Legault said, about the curfew. “It’s a quite drastic measure, but a very efficient measure.”
While the premier discouraged people from travelling around the province – especially during the upcoming spring break – he said authorities won’t prevent people from doing so. “There will be no tickets, there will be no roadblocks either,” he said about inter-regional travel.
Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said that as vaccinations increase among people over 65 years old – who account for 80 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations – more restrictions could be relaxed. He said the province can sustain four-to-six times more infections without an impact on hospitals once older people are immunized.
Residents of Quebec’s red zones – home to about 90 per cent of the population – will be allowed starting next week to participate in outdoor activities with up to three people from other households. In orange zones, the limit will be increased to eight.
In big cities such as Montreal and Quebec City, non-essential stores, which have been closed since Dec. 25, will be allowed to reopen, as will personal care salons like barbershops. Museums, too, will be permitted to reopen their doors across Quebec.
Legault called the measures for the province’s red zones a “small reopening.”
“We have to be very gradual,” he said. “We have to go slowly to give a chance to the hospitals.”
Earlier on Tuesday, health officials reported 1,053 new infections and 38 deaths, including seven in the preceding 24 hours. They said hospitalizations dropped by 34, to 1,110, and 178 people were in intensive care, a drop of five. The seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 infections dropped to 1,212 – the 25th consecutive day it has declined.
Spring break in Quebec, scheduled to begin March 1, will go ahead as planned, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said Tuesday afternoon. Health authorities said there were 2,830 active cases of COVID-19 in 1,066 schools across the province on Monday – exactly two weeks after in-person classes resumed in secondary schools.
Quebec has reported a total of 264,526 infections and 9,862 deaths linked to the virus. Health officials reported an additional 1,454 recoveries Tuesday for a total of 241,537. Quebec has 13,126 active reported cases.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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