As COVID-19 cases spike across the province and the threat of Omicron looms, the Quebec government will tighten public health measures on Monday, while speeding up its booster shot campaign.
“In this fight that we are waging, it’s not enough to just get vaccinated,” Premier François Legault said during a Thursday news conference.
The province must also reduce the number of close contacts between people, he said.
Legault said the government does not want to close schools, so primary schools will reopen after the New Year at the regular date. High schools will use remote learning until Jan. 10.
Masks will be again required in primary and high school classrooms and buses.
Private gatherings will be reduced to 10 people inside, 20 outside and it is recommended that people use rapid testing kits before gathering.
Officials said that doesn’t mean people should attend 10 parties with 10 people, but instead limit the number of gatherings they attend.
Quebec’s new measures also include:
- Stores will have reduced capacity, allowing one client per 20 square metres.
- Places of worship will reduce capacity by 50 per cent, with a cap of 250 people. Vaccine passports will be required and people must be seated.
- Funerals and weddings can have up to 25 people without requiring vaccine passports, but up to 250 people with passports.
- For public activities, capacity is lowered by 50 per cent to a maximum of 250 people. People must stay seated and wear a mask at all times.
- Bars and restaurants must cut capacity by 50 per cent, spacing tables as much as possible, with a maximum of 10 people at tables. Dancing and karaoke are banned once again.
- Cinemas and theatres will also have capacity reduced by 50 per cent.
- All tournaments and competitions suspended as of Monday, with reduced capacity of gyms and other indoor training facilities.
“If everyone does their part, we can get through this together,” Legault said.
Legault said there will be support offered to businesses affected by the public health measures as they were in previous stages of the pandemic.
Booster campaign speeds up
As of Monday, people 65 and over will be able to make an appointment for a booster shot, Health Minister Christian Dubé said. People with certain health conditions aged 60 and up will also be eligible.
The Monday after that, Dec. 27, all people 60 and up will be able to make an appointment.
WATCH | Legault tightens health measures:
From there, the aim is to begin offering the rest of the population booster shots in the New Year.
There was no mention of barring travel into Quebec from other provinces as was done in the past.
However, Legault is not ruling out further restrictions. Asked if the province will reinstate the curfew, he said officials believe the current rules will be enough, but next week may be different.
“We may have to adjust our measures,” said Legault.
Legault said, as of Monday, rapid tests will be available in pharmacies. However, people should stay home if they have symptoms, and get a PCR test.
WATCH | Physician explains risks of travel, holiday gatherings:
Cases on the rise
Legault said preliminary data shows the province expects to report almost 3,700 cases on Friday.
It reported 2,736 on Thursday — its highest daily total since Jan. 3, when the province was plunged in the virus’s second wave.
On Wednesday, there were 2,386 new infections. The seven-day rolling average for cases has jumped to 2,035.
In the last week, the number of people in Quebec hospitals due to COVID-19 has gone from 255 to 309.
Dubé said about half of people requiring hospitalization are double vaccinated, while up to 80 per cent of people in intensive care are not vaccinated.
He said this decline of the vaccine’s efficacy over time is to blame, though it is helping to keep people out of intensive care. This shows the importance of getting a third dose of the vaccine, he said.
As the number of cases continues to climb, hospitalizations could shoot up in the coming weeks, according to the latest projections from the provincial government health-care research institute, known by its french acronym INESSS.
They show that as many as 700 Quebecers could be in hospital due to the virus by early January, with about 160 of them in intensive care.
Dr. François Marquis, head of intensive care at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, says soaring cases could lead to a situation like that of the first wave.
“Yes, we’re better at treating the patients, and we know the virus much more, but the sheer numbers of patients, that could be just enough to tip the balance,” he said.
Marquis says the health-care system has been preparing for another spike in hospitalizations, but he and his colleagues across Quebec won’t be able to handle the fourth wave on their own.
“We rely on the people to follow the rules,” he said. “We have to work as a team, the hospitals will not be enough by themselves.”
Limiting contacts and closely monitoring for symptoms will be crucial this year because the Omicron variant spreads so quickly, said Marquis.
“Basically Omicron starts being contagious much earlier in the disease,” he said.
“For the holidays, you have to make sure that if you have the slightest symptoms don’t go to a party, don’t go to a gathering, get tested.”