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Quebec public health director advises loosening COVID-19 restrictions on March 8: documents

Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, at the legislature in Quebec City, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Horacio Arruda, Quebec director of National Public Health, left, looks on. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

In Quebec, regions that are designated COVID-19 red zones could drop to a less restrictive colour-coded level starting March 8, according to documents penned by public health authorities.

The documents, which were unveiled Friday, show that if the novel coronavirus situation continues to improve then other indoor facilities — in addition to hockey arenas and swimming pools — could reopen after the school break.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, also mentions the potential return of extracurricular activities in elementary and high school class groups as of March 8.

In high schools, there could also be a change to attendance measures in place for students in grades 9, 10 and 11 after March 7. As it stands, teenagers in those grades physically go to class every second day.

Read more: Coronavirus vaccination is underway in Quebec, but details remain scant on mass inoculation plans

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Public health is also looking at easing measures for organized sports in orange zones after March 7.

In his most recent written opinions sent to the government on Feb.16, Arruda also commented on the issue of interregional travel. He says the authorities in the Côte-Nord and Bas-St-Laurent regions want random police checkpoints on the road in order to “sensitize” the population.

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So far, the Legault government has refused to bring back roadblocks as it had done last spring when the pandemic first began, preferring to ask the police to enforce the nightly curfew.

Quebec premier stricter than Arruda

The written guidance is part of a series of 14 documents released Friday from Arruda that had been requested by the opposition for months.

However, opposition parties do not have the chance to question Premier François Legault on his political choices and the rollout of restrictions, which have had a direct impact on the entire population of Quebec. The national assembly began a two-week parliamentary recess the same day the documents were released.

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The documents show that health restrictions imposed by Legault were often stricter than what public health proposed.

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For example, Arruda proposed keeping theatres, cinemas and dining rooms in restaurants open on Sept. 7. He also brought up this recommendation several times, according to the documents.

On Oct. 22, Arruda also recommended reopening museums, libraries, gyms and spas starting Oct. 28 after they were shut down to curb the spread of the virus.

He also wanted to allow children 13 and under to practise organized activities like sports under certain conditions.

On Nov. 16, the public health department said it was ready to allow some supervised sports and cultural activities for children as of January 2021.

Ahead of the holiday season, Arruda also questioned “if the measures are too damaging, will adherence (to the rules) be maintained over time or crumble?”

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Arruda cited, among other things, concerns about the signs of depression he was seeing in adults, especially in Montreal. He said he wanted to give “relief valves” to the population.

With files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise

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