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People wear face masks as they walk along Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Feb. 6, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebec became the first Canadian province to record more than 10,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday, as the government prepared to relax some health restrictions.

The province added 32 more lost lives to its tally, for a total of 10,031 deaths since the pandemic began.

Dozens of Quebecers have continued to die from COVID-19 each day, even as cases and hospitalizations have trended downwards in recent weeks.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube described the overall situation in the province as encouraging, but noted on Twitter that “deaths remain too high.”

Most of the province’s total deaths have occurred in Greater Montreal and neighbouring areas such as Laval and Monteregie.

More than 90 per cent of the people who died were age 70 and up.

The number of deaths peaked on April 29, 2020, with 151, before subsiding during the summer and resuming at a lower level during the second wave.

The sombre milestone came a day before non-essential stores, personal care salons and museums across the province were poised to reopen their doors. New measures giving such businesses the green light to resume operations are set to take effect on Monday.

In addition, six of the province’s less-populated regions, including the Gaspe Peninsula and the Saguenay area north of Quebec City will be moved to the lower, orange pandemic-alert level.

Restaurant dining rooms, gyms and indoor sports facilities will be able to reopen on Monday in those regions, which are home to about 10 per cent of the population and have reported few or no cases in recent days. Cinemas and theatres can begin operating again on Feb. 26.

The provincewide curfew imposed Jan. 9 will remain in place, but the start will be delayed to 9:30 p.m. in orange zones compared to 8 p.m. for the rest of the province.

Quebec recorded another 1,081 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, for a total of 270,058 infections, while hospitalizations declined by 19 to 963.

Of those patients, 158 people are in intensive care, which is one less than the day before.

There are still more than 1,200 active outbreaks in the province, even though the number has declined in recent days.

That includes almost 400 work-related outbreaks, along with 388 in care facilities and 274 in schools.

There’s also a major outbreak at Montreal’s Bordeaux detention centre, where over 100 detainees have tested positive. Data on the province’s website shows 77 of those cases are still considered active.

Quebec also vaccinated 2,033 more people on Saturday for a total of 256,550 shots.

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