Quebec is prohibiting gatherings over the Christmas holiday season as novel coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to mount in the province.
Premier François Legault announced the move Thursday, more than one week ahead of his self-imposed deadline to issue a decision for the holiday season.
“With the numbers we have, it’s unrealistic to think we will change the situation in time for Christmas,” he said. “We need to protect our nurses and our elderly.”
The cancellation of Christmas events affects all regions on red alert — which is most of the province. Quebecers who live alone, however, are allowed to see one other person during the holidays.
Legault said Quebec will maintain a longer school break as planned, with distance learning several days before Christmas for elementary and high school students.
“I know we all want to see our family, but it’s not a very good idea,” he said.
Earlier this week, Legault said the government was mulling its options as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic gains steam.
In November, the province had issued a revised plan to allow Quebecers to see each other for a maximum of two gatherings from Dec. 24-27. In exchange, people had to voluntarily quarantine the week before and after as part of a “moral contract.”
“Unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated,” he said, adding that at the time he thought allowing Christmas to go ahead was manageable.
Yet, Legault said there has been a resurgence of the health crisis in the province. Quebec reported 1,470 new cases and 30 additional deaths Thursday after hitting a record high of new infections the previous day.
Hospitalizations also topped 700 this week — another high for the second wave. The last time that many patients were being treated for COVID-19, it was in June. Officials have warned that a number of health-care institutions are starting to become stretched thin.
“If we continue in this direction, hospitals will start to overflow,” Legault said, adding health-care professionals are exhausted.
The caseload of the province, which has been hard hit by the health crisis, stands at 146,532. Since March, 7,155 people have died.
Follow the rules or face fines, officials warn
When asked if he was concerned some multi-household events will go ahead, Legault says he trusts Quebecers’ sense of responsibility.
It is also forbidden for people who live in red zones to travel to the few regions where gatherings are permitted, he added. Those who violate the rules could also face fines.
“The virus is very dangerous,” Legault said. “We need to stay home and get some rest, and we have to take care of one another.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante urged her fellow citizens to find other ways to celebrate the holidays, citing how hard the city has been hit by the pandemic.
The police department is ready to intervene if needed, according to Plante, but she said that ultimately “it’s an individual’s responsibility to protect ourselves, but mostly to protect others.”
New restrictions for malls starting Friday
The cancellation of the government’s Christmas plan comes one day ahead of the implementation of new restrictions in shopping malls and retail stores.
The measures aim to contain the spread of COVID-19 cases and limit crowds heading out to shop for the holidays.
As of Friday, there will be a maximum number of clients permitted in those businesses depending on their size and there must also be clear signage about the limits.
Under the plan, masks and physical distancing of two metres must also be enforced and respected in all stores.
Quebec will be sending work and safety teams to visit malls and shops to ensure public health measures are being enforced. Police will be making the rounds as well.
— With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian PressView link »