Quebec Premier François Legault announced Tuesday that some COVID-19 restrictions are being loosened in Quebec, just in time for spring break at the beginning of March.
Starting Feb. 26, movie theatres will be allowed to reopen in red zones with some restrictions. Procedural masks will be mandatory, as will social distancing in common areas and a maximum of 250 spectators will be allowed even in big theatres.
Indoor pools and arenas are also being reopened to allow for family activities. Outdoor sports, already permitted in groups of four, will now be allowed for groups of eight people.
Cinema Guzzo CEO Vincenzo Guzzo was thrilled with Tuesday’s announcement.
“We’ve had so little good news in the last 10 months so we will take this one,” he said. ”
“I’m still hoping for him to change that curfew from 8 o’clock to 9:30 so I can get a 7 o’clock showing in there which is a key show for adults.”
For now, however, the curfew will remain in place across Quebec to prevent an explosion of cases linked to illegal indoor gatherings.
“One important difference between Christmas and March break is the curfew,” Legault said.
“At Christmas, we didn’t have the curfew. I think that with the curfew in place at 8 p.m., definitely it reduces the number of contacts.”
The move comes as the province continues to see a decline in the number of daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations linked to the coronavirus.
The premier said the decision was made to allow for some activities to resume in a bid to accommodate parents over the spring break.
However, he cautioned against people letting their guard down.
“The battle with the virus isn’t over, we still have significant risk ahead of us,” he said.
Even if hospitalizations have gone down, Legault pointed to growing wait-lists for operations that have been postponed or cancelled as a result of the pandemic.
He also noted that front-line hospital staff are exhausted and that COVID-19 variants are a major concern.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said there are 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants and 86 probable cases that are being investigated.
“We are acting on these cases as if though they have been confirmed cases of variants,” Dubé said, adding that specific isolation measures are in place for those affected.
The spread of variants will have a major influence on when and to what extent the government lifts restrictions, Dubé said.
“It’s very clear that if the variants are limited at the beginning and the right measures of confinement are done, countries have been able to limit the impact of those variants,” he said.
Vaccinations, Legault added, will also play a big role in the province’s eventual reopening.
“If we succeed in the next few weeks to have all vulnerable people vaccinated, it will be a completely new ball game and then you would be able to start thinking about meeting other people in houses,” he said. “The vaccine is very key. What’s happening with the variants also is key.”
In the meantime, Legault urged Quebecers to respect family bubbles throughout the week-long break to limit the spread of the virus.
“We don’t want people renting houses with other families,” he said.
He also asked employers to allow employees with young children to take some time off.
“I repeat that it is not a good idea for grandparents to babysit children. I ask employers to be understanding with them. Please give them a few days off if you can.”
Legault also said that most of Quebec will remain in red zones, at least until after March break.
Only the Gatineau region will be downgraded to orange next Monday. Legault said the situation in the region is stable, as it is in Ottawa.
“If we want to improve the situation, we must avoid gatherings in houses in the next few weeks,” he said.
Critics agree that relaxing some restrictions makes sense under certain conditions.
“Understanding that we also need the government to put additional measures in place…such as rapid testing, such as a better projection of the variants,” said Liberal opposition Leader Dominique Anglade.
Dubé said a briefing will be held on Wednesday to discuss modelling and projections based on best and worst-case scenarios as they pertain to COVID-19 variants.
— With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press’ Jacob Serebrin