In his first address of the New Year on Wednesday, Quebec Premier François Legault announced a tightening of lockdown measures aimed at bringing the second wave of the novel coronavirus in the province under control.
Legault cited the deepening health crisis for the new measures.
“The last year has not been easy, we’ve fought the battle of our lives,” he said. “Unfortunately that battle isn’t over.”
Under the new rules, an overnight curfew will be put in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning on Saturday, Jan. 9. until Feb. 8.
People will not be allowed out of their homes during those hours unless they are going to work, Legault said.
Quebec thus becomes the first province in the country to impose a curfew during the pandemic.
Much of Quebec, including Montreal and Quebec City, has been under partial lockdown since October, when bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and entertainment venues were closed. In December, Legault closed all “non-essential” retail stores and extended the winter break for elementary and high school students, and ordered office workers to work remotely.
Legault said those measures for non-essential businesses will remain in place until Feb. 8, but said curbside pick-up will be allowed.
All grocery stores and corner stores will be required to close at 7:30 p.m. to respect the curfew, except those with gas stations which will be allowed to stay open longer. Pharmacies will also be allowed under the new rules to remain open after 8 p.m.
Churches and other places of worship have also been ordered to close, while funerals will be allowed but limited to a maximum of 10 people.
Police have been asked to enforce the guidelines. Those disobeying the curfew could face fines ranging between $1,000 and $6,000.
Dominque Tremblay, of the Quebec restaurateurs association, said the new rules don’t come as a surprise.
“We all knew that we were not going to reopen fully on Jan.11 seeing what’s going on,” she said in a statement to Global News. “We are certainly disappointed to see that we have to deal with new rules on top of that (curfew).”
Tremblay said that while they’re thankful that takeout and deliveries are still possible, they only represent a maximum of 30 per cent of regular revenues. With a closing time of 7:30 p.m. for takeout, the curfew will eat into those profits.
The lingering uncertainty is taking its toll, according to Tremblay.
“It is really difficult economically but mentally too to not know what’s next,” she said.
“That’s why we ask the government to put in place a reopening plan, structured, that will come with direct financial help, not loans.”
Back to School
Grade school students will be allowed to resume in-person classes on Jan. 11, as previously planned. High school students will continue with online learning for an extra week, with their return to school scheduled for Jan. 18.
“I think it’s essential that children continue to learn,” Legault said. The premier also noted that while there have been COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, they’ve been limited.
“Only two to three per cent of classrooms,” Legault said.
New guidelines, however, are being put in place. Elementary school children will be required to wear a face covering when moving around in hallways. Those in grades 5 and 6 will need to keep their masks on in the classroom as well.
High school students were already required to wear face coverings in the classroom but Legault said the government will be providing staff and students with two disposable masks per day.
Legault also said the province will be looking at ventilation in schools and other mitigation measures to lessen the impact of the pandemic on students.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge will be providing an update on Friday focusing on three issues including providing tutoring services to some students, adjusting the curriculum and grading scheme and providing help for students with mental health needs.
While theatres and cinemas will remain closed, Legault said the production of TV series or movies will be allowed to continue.
“It’s important, if only to provide entertainment, that these series continue,” Legault said, adding the industry is already working within strict guidelines.
Outdoor individual pursuits such as skiing, cross country skiing, jogging, going for walks and skating will be allowed.
“The measures have a negative impact on mental health and that’s why we want to allow outdoor activities,” he said.
The premier also urged those who need help to reach out.
“Don’t hesitate to ask for services,” Legault said.
Legault likened the new measures to a shock treatment.
“We’re in a race against the clock,” he wrote on social media, ahead of Wednesday’s announcement. “The virus is going faster than we are and to slow it down we need a shock treatment.”
Quebec has reported more than 2,000 new infections every day since Dec. 20. and on Wednesday hospitalizations stood at 1,393 — a number not seen since late May.
Earlier in the day, Health Minister Christian Dubé also expressed his concern on social media.
“The portrait of COVID-19 in Quebec is not what we would have hoped for after the holiday break,” he wrote. We must therefore redouble our efforts to curb the virus.”
While Legault called on everyone to do their part, he urged those over the age of 65 to make an extra effort to limit contacts and stay home.
Legault said that those over 65 represent 20 per cent of the population but 80 per cent of patients being hospitalized for COVID-19.
“What we want to tell Quebecers, is that aside from going to work, going to school and getting food you have to stay home,” he said. “We’re talking about saving lives and saving our health-care system.”
— With files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise and The Canadian Press’ Jacob Serebin