Quebec police will be able to quickly receive a warrant remotely in order to enter the homes of people suspected of hosting illegal gatherings, Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday.
On the eve of a 28-day lockdown order for the province’s two largest cities, Legault said police are being asked to crack down on Quebecers violating the new rules imposed to reduce rising COVID-19 infections.
“I want to be very clear here, the police are not going to start knocking at random on every door in Quebec,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “There will be no witch hunts … the police will only do it if there is reason to believe that the law is not being respected.”
Quebec moved three regions, including the Montreal and Quebec City areas, into the highest pandemic alert level. Starting Thursday, bars, cinemas and other venues are ordered closed in those regions while restaurants will be limited to takeout.
The new measures also prohibit private gatherings and specify that people cannot have any visitors at their homes from another address, with very few exceptions such as caregivers or service providers. Outdoor gatherings are also illegal among people from different households.
The new orders are in effect for at least 28 days, Legault said. About five million people live in the affected regions.
If police suspect an illegal gathering, they can remotely contact a judge and receive a “telewarrant,” Legault said, “that same evening.” Anyone caught violating the rules face a $1,000 fine on the spot, he said.
As for protests, including antimask protests, those not wearing a mask could be subject to a $1,000 fine right across the province.
Quebec reported 838 new COVID-19 cases and one more death attributed to the novel coronavirus on Wednesday.
Legault said the idea isn’t to ticket people en masse starting Thursday, but to urge people to comply with the rules.
Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault said she trusts police officers to assess situations and intervene as needed.
“Again, the police will probably do a preventive intervention, reminding the person to wear their mask,” Guilbault said.
“If the person puts on his mask, it’s a safe bet that it will stop there … but if they stubbornly refuse and there’s an altercation … at that moment, we fall into the police intervention.”
Quebec’s Health Department said Wednesday hospitalizations were up by 15, to 262. The number of patients in intensive care rose by two, to 43.
Health authorities have reported a total of 74,288 COVID-19 infections and 5,834 deaths linked to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. The province considers 62,564 people recovered.
Montreal and Quebec City reported the highest numbers of new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, with 318 and 134 cases respectively.