As the end of the holiday lockdown looms and some health experts call for tighter restrictions, Quebec officials are to set to address the rapid progression of the COVID-19 pandemic — and whether measures and closures will be extended.
Premier François Legault initially called a news conference for Tuesday evening but then, in an unusual move, it was delayed by a full day to 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Quebec is currently under a partial lockdown, which includes the closure of schools and non-essential businesses until Jan. 11 to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus. In recent weeks, hospitalizations and cases have soared — putting pressure on the province’s already stretched-thin health-care system.
Montreal’s French-language La Presse is reporting that the government is not only considering implementing a full lockdown similar to the one in March 2020, but that public health authorities are recommending a curfew. A curfew would mark a new step for Quebec, which has not implemented that kind of restriction during the pandemic.
Dr. Christopher Labos, an epidemiologist, told Global News that the province is running out of options and he thinks a curfew could help Quebec get control of the rising number of hospitalizations and patients in intensive care units.
“At a certain point, we will run out of room. We will run out of personnel,” he said.
While some parts of the province, including Montreal and Quebec City, have been under partial lockdown since October, there has been a significant uptick in recent weeks.
The circuit-breaker provincewide shutdown ordered over the holiday break began Christmas Day, but some say more needs to be done to break the developing second wave of the pandemic. Another health expert said Monday that she was in favour of a curfew.
“The government bet on a partial lockdown to reduce the number of cases. It didn’t work,” said Roxane Borges Da Silva, a professor at Université de Montréal’s school of public health.
Christian Bourque from Léger marketing, however, says that a fresh wave of measures could be hard for citizens to face since the health crisis began nearly a year ago.
Quebec saw more than 2,500 new cases and 62 new deaths Tuesday, with hospitalizations jumping once again. There are more than 1,300 patients in hospital, including 194 in intensive care units.
Quebec remains the province hardest hit by the health crisis, with the highest caseload at 215,358. Since last March, the pandemic has led to the deaths of 8,441 Quebecers.
Is Quebec prepared for online learning?
Quebec Liberal Marwah Rizqy, the official Opposition’s critic for education, said she hoped schools would reopen next week as planned — but she thinks the government will announce a month-long shutdown of classrooms.
“Right now, my hopes are not very high because I can read the numbers and the number of cases are going up,” she said.
If students must stay home, Rizqy said she is concerned about accessibility to online learning. The province has previously said it is ready in case schools need to close, again, due to the pandemic.
In August, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced the emergency reserve of 30,000 technological devices as an exceptional measure to ensure children and teenagers have access to tablets and computers. But Rizqy says the government is not fully ready for online learning for every student.
“If we have to shut down the school, I’m very scared for the elementary schools,” she said.
Retailers, manufacturers concerned about shutdowns
Marc Fortin, president of the Retail Council of Canada in Quebec, said retailers are anxious to know about what comes next. The pandemic-induced closures has left some of them struggling, he added, saying some are on the brink of not being able to reopen.
“All of our retailers are hanging on to their TVs and radios to understand what the next steps are,” he said, specifically referring to a possible curfew.
Quebec may also, for the first time since last spring, order manufacturers to close along with the construction sector and schools, according to multiple reports.
Veronique Proulx, CEO of Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec, said manufacturers lost nearly $4 billion in sales when they were shut during the first wave of the pandemic.
She expects a similar situation if they are ordered to do the same again, describing it as a worst-case scenario for manufacturers that will leave them at a disadvantage.
“If we’re shutting down and consumers continue to buy, as they did during the last shutdown, they’ll be buying from Amazon and they’ll be buying from other manufacturers who can actually continue to produce,” she said. “The market share that these foreign companies are gaining is there to stay.
“It’s very difficult for Quebec manufacturers to win them back.”
—With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher, Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian PressView link »