Quebec Premier François Legault announced the loosening of some COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday as the number of hospitalizations and daily cases decreases.
The situation has improved in recent weeks,” Legault said. “I want to thank you for that but we have to remain very careful.
“We can only lift certain measures but very gradually.”
As of Feb. 8, stores, hair salons and museums will be allowed to reopen across the province. Universities and CEGEPs will also be allowed to gradually resume in-person classes.
Other measures will remain in place, including the overnight curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. and work-from-home directives for office workers.
Legault said the backlog of surgeries and the fatigue felt by health-care workers means the situation in hospitals remains precarious.
In numbers, Legault said that 34 per cent of surgeries that should have happened were postponed leading to longer waiting lists.
“The battle against the virus is not over,” Legault said, “we must continue all our efforts for the health workers.”
Six regions, however, are being downgraded from red alert, the maximum possible on the provincial COVID-alert system, to orange.
Those regions include the Gaspésie, Lower St. Lawrence, Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean, Abitibi–Témiscamingue, Nord du Québec and Côte-Nord.
In those regions, restaurants, gyms and indoor sporting activities will resume with certain restrictions and the curfew will be pushed back from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
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Theatres and cinemas are also allowed to reopen on Feb. 26.
Small allowances are being made in red zones for outdoor group activities. Legault said four people from different households can get together for walks, snowshoeing and other pursuits but that social distancing must be respected.
Tuesday’s announcement is welcome news for retailers.
Stores selling non-essential items have been closed across Quebec since Dec. 25.
“We are at the point where retail needs to be reopened for the population and the retail owners because we are at the limit at this point,” said Marc Fortin, president of the Quebec branch of the Retail Council of Canada.
Many retailers, unable to liquidate their winter inventories, are finding themselves strapped for cash and in a difficult position as they look to restock for the spring and summer seasons, Fortin explained.
For many businesses, online sales weren’t enough.
“It has been extremely difficult in a business like ours curbside pickup and e-commerce don’t replace bricks and mortar business,” said Jean-Christophe Bedos, CEO of Birks Canada.
While relief is in view for some, restaurant owners — especially those in red zones — feel like they have been left out in the cold.
Restaurant dining rooms have been closed in Montreal and Quebec City since the beginning of October, 2020.
About 10 per cent of Quebec restaurants have closed permanently since the pandemic began.
According to the Association Restauration Québec (ARQ), revenues dropped by 40 per cent in 2020 with losses estimated between $5 and $6 billion.
“We don’t want a repeat of 2020,” said ARQ vice-president of public and government affairs François Meunier, in press release.
The association argues restaurant owners have invested large sums to retrofit their dining rooms in order to comply with public health guidelines but were forced to close anyways and without proof their establishments were linked to any outbreaks.
The group is reiterating it calls for more government support.
“We need to know when we will be reopen how we will be reopen and we need to have a comprehensive financial aid package,” said ARQ president Martin Vézina.
— With files from Global News’ Amanda Jelowicki