With at least 3,700 new cases expected to be announced on Friday, the Quebec government has announced a series of renewed restrictions including reduced capacity at businesses, bars and restaurants and a delayed return to classes for secondary and post-secondary students.
Because of the record-breaking numbers, “we must act,” Quebec Premier François Legault said Thursday, announcing a slew of public health rules the province is tightening as of Monday.
Getting vaccinated is key, he said, but “the second weapon that we have is simple: we have… to be close to other people less often.”
The province has a goal of reducing contacts by 50 per cent, he said. That means halving capacity wherever possible across the province.
“First of all, businesses — we are going to be reducing the capacity to 50 per cent, and bars, restaurants, showrooms, theatres, we’re also going to reduce capacity at 50 per cent,” he said.
Places of worship will be reduced also to 50 per cent capacity and will be capped at 250 seated attendees. Vaccine passports will also now be required at places of worship. Weddings and funerals may have 25 people without vaccine passports in use.
Schools’ reopening after the holidays will also be delayed, but only for high schools, and only by a week — primary schools will be back on schedule.
High school students, who were expected back on Jan. 3, will instead do remote learning for a week and return in person on Jan. 10, Legault said. Masks will also be required again in classrooms.
Any post-secondary students who were due back in class before Jan. 10 will also need to wait until that date.
At bars, dancing and karaoke will also be forbidden again, after briefly being permitted since early November.
Sports and outdoor activities will be allowed to continue, with a maximum of 25 participants indoors, but tournaments and competitions will be suspended as of Monday. Gyms will be required to go down to 50 per cent capacity and keep people two metres apart.
When asked to rule out a new curfew coming into effect between now and Christmas, Legault declined.
“Today we don’t have a plan to put again a curfew [in place],” he said. But “with this pandemic we cannot rule out anything.”
CHRISTMAS GROUPS UP TO 10, BUT BE SPARING
Christmas gatherings will also be halved, from the previously announced 20-person cap to a 10-person cap, Legault said. However, he urged people to avoid gathering if they can, and to take precautions.
“Even 10 people have to be very prudent and just do what is absolutely necessary. There are risks in homes,” he said.
“First of all, it’s important to say that you know, airing out is important — to open, you know, a window in the house, to have air circulation,” he said, “and to be very, very prudent with vulnerable people.”
Health Minister Christian Dubé added that allowing a gathering of 10 people isn’t an invitation to pack as many of those into the holidays as possible.
“[If] you want to have one Christmas evening, have one Christmas evening — don’t have five evenings with 10 people each,” he said. “That’s what we have to keep in mind.”
RECORD-BREAKING NUMBERS, NEW FOCUS ON BOOSTERS
Infection numbers have risen dramatically this week to Friday’s predicted record-breaking number. A daily count of 3,700 would top, by far, Quebec highest daily count so far throughout the pandemic — the previous record was 2,880, on Jan. 6, 2021.
The new Omicron variant is also spreading quickly, with DNA testing only starting to show its prevalence, public health officials have said.
Thursday, they recorded two more confirmed Omicron variant cases, for a total of 13, and 105 additional presumptive cases, for a total of 129.
There are 17,400 active cases of COVID-19 in Quebec at this time.
Omicron is “a major change,” said Quebec public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda.
The province, recognizing recently that third shots or boosters will be a key “weapon” against this variant, is trying to speed up their pace as it lags compared to the speed of neighbouring provinces. Boosters in Quebec are still only open to those 70 and up and a few other small vulnerable groups.
Appointments will be moved up by about a week for people over 65 and 60, Dubé said. For everyone, as of today, the minimum delay after the second shot is only three months, not six, which will help make many more people eligible when other age groups open in January.
There’s a lack of staff available now to work in the vaccine clinics and the province is trying to remedy that, the leaders said.
READ MORE: Quebec searches for staff to speed up boosters, cuts delay after second dose to just 3 months
‘OUR HEALTH NETWORK IS VERY FRAGILE’
Legault said that Omicron and how contagious it is — it is much more easily caught than the Delta variant — have brought a new battle to Quebec.
While recent hospitalizations and deaths have stayed much lower than in previous waves, before the vaccine was available, Legault said that massive case counts will still bring a “significant” rise in hospitalizations.
“Experts believe that… hospitalizations will be increasing over the coming weeks,” he said.
“Of course, hospitalizations are the key. For a long time it has been our greatest source of concern because our health network is already fragile.”
He acknowledged that some will be upset because the province is changing all the rules it had eased over the last months.
“We are going to leave pride aside,” he said. “If there is one thing that we’ve learned with this crisis it’s that we have to be very humble, because what we see today is perhaps not what we’ll be seeing tomorrow or the following week.”
He said that he is “thinking of all Quebecers who are tired, who are looking forward to seeing their family, and thinking of business owners who have had two very hard years, who are saying ‘I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and now I have to go back to 50 per cent of my capacity,'” he said.
“I understand that it’s not easy, but I’m asking everyone to show courage, to take care of yourself, to take care of those who you care for most.”