Premier François Legault laid out a firm schedule for lifting a vast array of measures in most of the province on Tuesday, a plan that includes allowing the Montreal Canadiens to host 2,500 fans for home playoff games after May 28.
“You can see hope is there, we can start to see people again,” Mr. Legault said, beaming as he walked through the reopening calendar. “It’s a very big day, a very big step.”
Quebec, which has suffered more than its share of cases and deaths since the pandemic started, has maintained strict measures since the fall and had a milder third wave than much of the country. Quebec also leads among provinces in the rate of vaccination, with 60 per cent of adults having received a first shot.
Mr. Legault announced another 15 per cent of adult Quebeckers are booked for a first shot by June 15, meaning the province will hit its 75-per-cent target for adults at least nine days ahead of schedule. The vaccination of teenagers and second doses for adults will ramp up rapidly in June.
Quebec follows Saskatchewan, which unveiled a reopening plan last week. Unlike the Prairie province, Quebec did not tie the June reopening steps to specific vaccination targets, although Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s Public Health Director, warned they would have to stop or reverse the plan if things go wrong.
In Ontario, which recently extended its provincewide stay-at-home order until June 2, the government says it will outline its own reopening plan soon. It is expected to be a phased approach, but the government has said it is abandoning the colour-coded levels of restrictions it introduced last year.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has suggested that banned outdoor activities – such as golf or tennis – could be allowed even before June 2, if cases continue to decline and the burden on hospitals eases. On Tuesday, Ms. Elliott said health officials were developing a “sector-specific” reopening plan that would be gradual.
“We have been working with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and medical experts on a safe and careful reopening of Ontario because the last thing you want is to go into it too quickly and get into a fourth wave,” the Health Minister said. “We have to do everything we can to avoid that.”
Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams has said Ontario needs to see a number of days with “well below” 1,000 new infections before restrictions are eased. The province recorded 1,616 new cases on Tuesday, its lowest tally since March 24. With 60 per cent of Ontario’s total population, Quebec posted 549 new cases.
The Quebec lockdown lift, known in French as the “déconfinement,” starts Monday when a few high schools will reopen in zones with emergency measures.
Starting May 28, the government will start authorizing outdoor activities, such as opening restaurant patios and allowing two households with eight people to gather in private outdoor space.
Over the first couple weeks of June, outdoor sports can fully resume and bar patios can open, followed by indoor restaurant and bar seating, with limits on mixing households.
Festivals will be allowed to have uncontrolled outdoor crowds of 2,500 at the end of June. Finally, people with two doses of vaccine will be allowed to gather freely starting June 28 without masks or physical distancing.
Mr. Legault said he aims to have second doses complete among 75 per cent of Quebeckers 12 and over by September, which will allow the province to drop mask requirements in most indoor settings and the full return of postsecondary education.
“We will be back to quasi normal at the end of August if we have reached our 75-per-cent second-dose objective,” Dr. Arruda said. “But we have to respect the calendar and the measures until then.”
The representatives of bars and restaurant owners and sports organizers welcomed the plan, particularly the date certainty attached to much of it.
The documents containing the details of the plan were not published yet early Tuesday evening, but medical experts expressed cautious optimism.
“The calendar strikes a very good balance between socialization and prudence,” said geriatrician David Lussier, who was at the front lines as COVID-19 devastated Quebec’s elderly population.
“The plan is reasonable and the epidemiological situation allows us to go ahead with relaxing measures,” Cécile Tremblay, an infectious-disease specialist at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal health centre, told Radio-Canada.
Quebec’s curfew will have been in place 139 days when it is lifted May 28. Rights groups have denounced the curfew, saying it is too drastic with little evidence the benefit outweighs the limit on freedom.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association described Quebec as “one of the most punitive provinces in the country” in a statement last week. The province gave out more than 16,000 fines for violating rules during the pandemic, 5,060 of them in April alone.
“We are pleased the curfew is finally being lifted, it is long past time,” said Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The Montreal Canadiens, which will be allowed to put 250 fans in each section of their home rink to a maximum of 2,500 fans, have started preparations. The Canadiens will play the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre on May 29, if there is a Game 6 in their playoff series.
“We are delighted with the government’s decision,” said France Margaret Bélanger, executive vice-president of the Canadiens. “We really miss our fans and spectators and can’t wait to host them again. And we will be ready.”
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