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A woman wears a face mask as she walks by Christmas trees in Montreal, Nov. 22, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government has tightened its rules surrounding Christmas gatherings, specifying on Tuesday that people will only be able to attend two holiday events during a four-day window.

Premier Francois Legault’s government last week announced it would permit gatherings of a maximum of 10 people for four days between Dec. 24 and 27 and asked Quebecers to voluntarily quarantine themselves for a week before and after in exchange.

Legault said Tuesday that while there are four days available to gather with people outside their households, Quebecers should at most use two of them.

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He also asked that people who are unable to quarantine avoid gatherings altogether.

“I’m sure those people don’t want to infect, or take the risk of infecting, members of their own family, so it’s understood that if you can’t quarantine a week before it’s better not to go to Christmas dinner,” Legault told a news conference in Quebec City.

Legault has faced some criticism for his decision to loosen restrictions for Christmas as the province continues to report over 1,000 cases a day.

On Tuesday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister weighed in on Quebec’s plan, calling it dangerous.

“I don’t want to get into quarterbacking other provinces – there are premiers there doing their absolute best – except to say this: I think it’s dangerous what the Quebec premier has decided to announce on Christmas,” Pallister said.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, while saying he doesn't want to quarterback other provinces, called Quebec's Christmas gathering plan dangerous. Premier Francois Legault clarified the province’s plan to allow gatherings at Christmas amid the second wave of COVID-19, setting the limit at two gatherings over the four days. The Canadian Press

Legault, in response, said the number of new cases per million residents is currently lower in Quebec than Manitoba.

“Second, I want to (remind) my friend Brian that we’re talking about a maximum of 10 people per house, and also we’re asking for a quarantine of seven days before the gathering,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s aware of all these requirements.”

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Legault, however, said he was not willing to impose stricter measures, such as shutting down stores, to enforce the quarantine, saying it would not be fair to people who aren’t planning to gather.

Under the province’s current rules, bars, restaurant dining areas and most cultural venues are closed in most regions of the province, and social gatherings are limited to people of the same household, with a few exceptions.

The change to the Christmas rules came as the number of deaths and hospitalizations in the province continued to jump.

Quebec reported 45 more deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 1,124 new infections on Tuesday, as well as a 21-person increase in the number of hospitalizations.

Legault said that unlike in the first wave, the problem is now mostly concentrated outside of major cities.

He said the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region is hardest hit, followed by Estrie, Gaspe, parts of Lanaudiere, Bas-St-Laurent and Sorel.

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Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, with a population of just over 275,000, counted more than 100 new cases on Tuesday, giving it the highest per-capita infection rate in the province.

“I’m asking everyone in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, if you’re able in the coming days, the coming weeks, to stay home, it will help to reduce the pressure,” Legault said.

The premier said there was also a “real problem” in private seniors’ residences, which are driving transmission in some regions.

Government data showed a total of 167 new cases in private seniors’ homes in the past 24 hours. The two residences with the biggest increases were both in Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, with 53 and 37 new cases.

Earlier Tuesday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube announced a plan to track the movement of staff working at multiple long-term care homes.

In a statement, Dube said he was creating a registry that would record instances when staff need to work at more than one care home “due to a risk of service disruption that could compromise user safety.”

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He said employees who have to move between hot and cold zones – those with infected patients and those without – will have to seek permission from management or infection control specialists first.

The government’s plan for the pandemic’s second wave included a ban on allowing personal care attendants to work at multiple locations, after this was identified as a key factor in COVID-19 transmission.

However, Dube has conceded that stopping all movement of personnel has been difficult due to shortages in certain jobs, such as nurses.

Canadian authorities are assessing COVID-19 vaccine candidates while trials are underway, speeding up any eventual approval for wide use. But science reporter Ivan Semeniuk says it’s likely high-risk people will be prioritized for receiving any vaccine first, with some possibly getting it as early as the first part of 2021. The Globe and Mail

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