Quebec Premier François Legault announced a tightening of COVID-19 restrictions ahead of the Easter long weekend, as the third wave of the pandemic takes hold in the province.
As of Thursday, four regions are being upgraded to red zones, the maximum alert level in the province, including the Outaouais, Capitale Nationale, Chaudières-Appalaches and Bas Saint-Laurent.
Legault made the announcement in Quebec City Wednesday afternoon, just one day after expressing concern over the rise in infections in those four regions.
Special emergency measures will be enacted in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau where cases are rising almost exponentially, according to Legault.
Health officials in the Quebec City area, for example, reported 111 new cases on Sunday, and within 48 hours that number jumped to 194.
The concern, the premier said, is the increase in hospitalizations which is expected to follow.
“This is why I’m announcing that Quebec, Lévis and Gatineau, will be on pause for 10 days, until April 12,” he said.
Schools, non-essential businesses, theatres, cinemas, gyms and restaurant dining rooms, among others, will all be closed starting Thursday at 8 p.m.
Restaurants will be allowed to continue doing takeout and delivery only. Businesses that are being allowed to remain open are not allowed to sell non-essential items.
Legault said financial help would be made available to businesses once again forced to close down. He also stressed that while closures might be difficult, they are necessary to get the economy back on track.
“The best thing for the economy and for businesses is that we get rid of this virus,” he said. “That’s why it’s the top priority that we take decisions that will give us this possibility.”
The 8 p.m. curfew is also being brought back in those three cities.
School day care services will be kept open, but for essential workers only, as classes will be held online.
“For regular child care, we ask parents who can, to keep their children at home,” Legault said.
Places of worship are being kept open, but will be limited to a maximum of 25 people.
When asked whether travel in and out of the affected cities would be restricted or controlled, Health Minister Christian Dubé said that various scenarios were being looked at but for Gatineau only, due to its proximity with Ottawa.
“We will find a way to make sure that there is less communication,” he said, adding that discussions were underway with provincial counterparts in Ontario to “make arrangements.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce Thursday whether more restrictions will be put in place to rein in the spread of the virus in that province.
While no specific measures are planned to limit travel in Quebec City and neighbouring Lévis, Quebec’s top doctor said it should be avoided.
“It’s highly, highly, highly not recommended to go to those zones because there is active transmission,” said Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda.
Legault urged residents in those areas to stay at home to reduce the number of contacts and avoid spreading the virus.
“Today, we’re saying it’s a wake up call. The situation is very serious in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau,” he said. “So please, it’s not fun and it’s really time to be careful.”
He also called on all Quebecers provincewide to be more careful and abide by public health guidelines.
“With the variants, we can see an explosion of cases within a few days,” he said, adding the government is “ready to act quickly and strongly if the situation worsens in other regions.”
“We all know how to avoid contagion, we need to stay at two metres, wear the mask and avoid gatherings in homes.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press’ Jacob Serebrin