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Quebec makes masks mandatory for high school students in coronavirus red zones

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Quebec increases measures for COVID-19 red zones' Coronavirus: Quebec increases measures for COVID-19 red zones
WATCH: Quebec increases measures for COVID-19 red zones – Oct 5, 2020

Quebec is tightening measures in designated novel coronavirus red zones by making masks mandatory for high school students, closing gyms and prohibiting team sports for at least 20 days, officials announced Monday.

High school students in affected areas, including Montreal and Quebec City, will be required to wear masks in the classroom and on school grounds at all times starting Thursday until at least Oct. 28. There are no changes to measures regarding masks in elementary schools.

Those who are in grades 10 and 11 will also be moved to a hybrid school model, comprised of in-class and remote learning. Students will maintain the same schedule as if they were in class.

“We want to do everything to keep our schools open,” Education Minister Jean-François Roberge told reporters in Montreal.

Under the plan, extracurricular activities and school trips are also cancelled in schools in those areas but sports or arts-concentrated programs are allowed to continue if they are limited to a classroom bubble.

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READ MORE: Quebec’s daily coronavirus case tally tops 1,000 for 4th straight day

Roberge said the new measures for schools will be reassessed before the end of the month, but that the priority is to prevent schools from closing down as they did in the spring.

“We know the best place for our students is at school,” he said.

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There are also new measures for universities and CEGEPs in red zones to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Danielle McCann, the minister responsible for the higher education portfolio, said classes should only be held online, with exceptions for laboratories and internships.

In post-secondary schools, libraries will remain open only to lend books and for individual workspaces. The government says public health measures must be maintained at all times.

Click to play video 'Quebec announces mask mandate for high school students in red zones' Quebec announces mask mandate for high school students in red zones
Quebec announces mask mandate for high school students in red zones – Oct 5, 2020

Gyms, team sports also off limits in red zones

Quebec is also issuing more restrictions outside of the education network. The province is banning team sports and closing gyms and other fitness centres in red zones.

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Isabelle Charest, the minister responsible for sports, said those measures are being implemented to stop community transmission and keep schools open.

“It’s a temporary measure and we just want to make sure we limit those contacts and have the minimum risk,” she said.

The new rules for schools and sports will only apply to the regions in the highest alert level under the province’s colour-coded ranking system.

READ MORE: Quebec will use federal coronavirus exposure app amid second wave

The new measures come as Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches are under a partial lockdown until at Oct. 28 — if all goes well. Three towns in the Gaspesie area will also turn red Monday night amid a growing number of coronavirus cases.

In red zones, bars, cinemas, libraries and other establishments are closed while restaurants are limited to takeout. Residents in those regions are also prohibited from inviting people to their homes, with few exceptions.

Quebec is the province hardest hit by the health crisis. Over the last four days, the daily tally of new coronavirus infections has exceeded 1,000.

To date, there have been more than 79,000 cases and 5,880 deaths linked to the virus.

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With files from the Canadian Press