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Quebec government outlines holiday plans with schools to close early to allow for 4 days of family gatherings

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Quebec to allow gatherings from Dec. 24-27, schools move to online learning before winter break' Coronavirus: Quebec to allow gatherings from Dec. 24-27, schools move to online learning before winter break
Quebec Premier François Legault proposed on Thursday a “moral contract” for the holiday season, where the province would allow gatherings between Dec. 24-27 with a maximum of 10 people. Legault asked people to limit contacts “as much as possible” one week before and one week after the set dates, and added that schools would be closing Dec. 17 and moving to online learning. Students will return to classes in January.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced Thursday that family gatherings with a maximum of 10 people will be allowed over the holiday season from Dec. 24 to 27 inclusively.

“What I am proposing is a moral contract,” he said, adding that if Quebecers want to see family they will have to limit their contacts the week before and the week after the set dates.

He explained the goal is to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, with the weeks before and after acting as a sort of quarantine.

“That way when we see our friends and families we will limit the risk of contagion,” he said.

The premier stressed the importance of family in helping us get through difficult times.

“We’ll need strength to get through this pandemic and to find this strength we need our families,” he said. “Holiday season is a very precious moment with them and family is the basis of our lives.”

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Legault urged employers to cooperate and allow employees to work from home as much as possible during that time period.

As for schools, they will close early but students will be required to take part in online learning activities from Dec. 17 to Dec. 22.

Read more: Online learning spurred by pandemic takes toll on university students and teachers in Montreal

Grade schools in the province will reopen at their previously scheduled dates either on Jan. 5, 6 or 7 depending on the region.

High schools will continue with online classes after the break, with in-person schooling resuming on Jan. 11.

Specialized schools will remain open as will daycare services but only for essential workers.

Teachers unions and parents groups had called for schools not to be closed for an extended period. In a joint statement, Quebec’s three largest union federations said they were pleased with the announcement, describing it as “responsible.”

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Legault also reminded Quebecers of the need to isolate if they were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. He also said that following public health guidelines such as frequent handwashing, social distancing, wearing a mask, is the best way to protect loved ones over the holidays.

Gatherings will be limited to the four days outlined by the government, which means big New Year’s celebrations are off the table.

The premier joked that Quebecers should stay home and watch ‘ByeBye’ — a yearly comedy French-language TV special featuring satirical sketches on events of the past year — and try to forget about 2020.

The decision also means no exceptions will be made for those who celebrate Hanukkah or other religious holidays.

Read more: Quebec will likely extend coronavirus red zone rules

Legault made the announcement at a news conference in Montreal where he was joined by Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, Health Minister Christian Dubé and Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of public health.

The announcement, however,  came with a caveat.

The premier warned that the situation in the province has to remain under control for holiday gatherings to go ahead.

Arruda specified there was no magic number as such, but the hope was to keep the numbers in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths below current levels.

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On Thursday, Quebec reported 1,207 new cases of COVID-19 bringing the total to 128,440 since the start of the pandemic. Another 34 people died of the illness while hospitalizations remained more or less stable at 651. Of those patients, 101 are in intensive care.

The deciding factor ultimately will be the health-care system’s ability of  to cope with the crisis, according to Arruda.

Legault also announced that restrictions in coronavirus red zones would continue until at least Jan. 11 of next year.

— With a file from The Canadian Press’ Jacob Serebrin