Authorities moved most of the cities along the St. Lawrence River between Quebec City and Montreal to the highest COVID-19 alert level Thursday, as the government pleaded with people to stay home for Thanksgiving.
Trois-Rivieres, Que., and the surrounding cities will join Montreal and Quebec City on maximum or “red” alert, Health Minister Christian Dube told reporters.
That decision, he said, means bars, restaurant dining areas, gyms and most entertainment venues will be forced to close on Sunday. Mask-wearing will also become mandatory in high schools in those areas by the middle of next week.
Dube said police will be setting up checkpoints on roads leading into some areas of the province, including parts of the Saguenay region north of Quebec City, to discourage non-essential travel.
He said the partial lockdowns in the red zones, where public indoor and outdoor gatherings are also banned, were imposed to limit community transmission of COVID-19.
“Limit yourself to your inner circle, that’s it, that’s very simple,” Dube told a Quebec City news conference.
“By that you’ll be at a very low number of contacts and you’ll be protecting yourself, your family and you’ll make sure we can break the wave. It’s as simple as that.”
Quebec reported 1,078 new COVID-19 cases and nine additional deaths Thursday, while the number of people being treated in hospital increased by 16 to 425 – 68 of whom are in intensive care.
Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said police have been present outside schools to educate young people about the need to follow public health measures, such as physical distancing.
“I think it’s a good idea to have help from the police forces to come and raise awareness,” Roberge said in Quebec City. “I think we should all work together, parents, school staff, police forces to educate our young people.”
Quebec has now reported 82,992 infections since the pandemic began, with 5,915 deaths. The province has less than a quarter of the Canadian population, yet more than half of all reported infections and more than 60 per cent of deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Dube raised the idea that perhaps Quebecers were less disciplined when it came to following the rules.
Liberal Leader Dominque Anglade said Thursday that such comments are a signal the government of Premier Francois Legault was unprepared for the second COVID-19 wave.
Legault said the province is trying to increase its contact tracing capacity, and he again urged Quebecers to download the federal COVID Alert smartphone app, which notifies someone when they have been exposed to the virus.
But Quebecers have been sluggish to use the application since it went live in the province on Monday. Legault said some people are leery, and he blamed the opposition Parti Quebecois and Quebec solidaire for raising doubts.
“I think that Quebecers are scared about their personal data, that it can be used by somebody else, the government, the ministry, Google, whoever,” Legault said. “We made all the verifications since this summer, and I can guarantee the Quebecers that there is no risk for their personal data.”
Interim PQ leader Pascal Berube called Legault’s allegations baseless, noting a parliamentary commission rejected using the app. Quebec solidaire co-spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said Legault’s comments were misleading.
“The main problem with this application is not the protection of personal data. It is that it will overload the (testing) clinics, which already give results too late,” Nadeau-Dubois said.
Legault appealed to Quebecers to stay home this Thanksgiving weekend.
“I’m asking Quebecers not to have a meeting with their family,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “Usually I go see my mother myself, (but) I won’t do it.”
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