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People at a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal on Oct. 17.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebec will lift its COVID-19 state of emergency once children aged five through 11 are vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday.

The premier said he expects that to happen in early 2022, though he acknowledged the situation could change.

Legault made the comments in his inaugural speech at the reopening of the province’s legislature after a prorogation.

Legault had previously been vague about when he planned to lift the public health emergency that was first declared in March 2020 and has been renewed every 10 days since.

That declaration under Quebec’s Public Health Act gives the government broad powers, including the ability to close places of assembly, limit travel, enter into contracts and “order any other measure necessary to protect the health of the population.”

Opposition parties and civil liberties groups have criticized the continued state of emergency, saying there needs to be more debate about what specific emergency powers are still needed to fight the pandemic.

The Quebec government has used those powers, at various times, to shut businesses and schools, to introduce a curfew and to suspend parts of its collective agreements with health-care unions. More recently, they were used to create a vaccine passport system.

Earlier Tuesday, Quebec reported 342 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest number of new daily cases reported in the province since mid-August.

The Health Department said there were four additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus. It said the number of hospitalizations declined by six, to 297, and 75 people are in intensive care, a decline of two.

Quebec’s public health institute said 90.2 per cent of residents 12 and over have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 87.2 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

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