Quebec Premier François Legault announced a tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in the province’s red and orange zones as the number of new cases linked to variants continues to grow.
“The variants forced us to act in four regions last week,” Legault said Tuesday, adding that while the situation remains under control in Montreal it could change rapidly.
“The situation is fragile and it could become critical very rapidly. This is why we must act in prevention in red and orange zones.”
The new measures include the closing of gyms, the return of hybrid learning for high school students in Grades 9, 10 and 11, as well as a maximum of 25 people allowed in places of worship — down from 250.
The move comes less than two weeks after students were ordered back to school and gyms were given the green light to reopen after being shuttered for close to six months.
High school students will begin alternating between one day of in-class learning and one day of online learning as of next Monday, April 12 and extracurricular activities in schools are being cancelled.
Indoor sports will be curtailed as of Thursday, with the closure of gyms. Legault specified that restrictions would be similar to those in effect in February, meaning pools and indoor skating rinks will stay open and individual sports played one on one, such as tennis and badminton, will be allowed.
In orange zones, masks will be made mandatory for all elementary school students and places of worship will only be allowed to welcome a maximum of 100 people.
The curfew, however, remains unchanged in both red and orange zones with people required to stay home between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Read more: High school students need to be back in class, Quebec education minister tells English boards
Legault, however, warned that the government will not hesitate to move the curfew forward to 8 p.m., if need be.
A situation that would require more restrictions, according to Health Minister Christian Dubé, is an increase in hospitalizations.
He explained that the maximum capacity for COVID-19 patients in intensive care was dropped from 380 to 300, due to staff shortages. The change was made on Tuesday and is forcing the province to act even more prudently.
“If ever the numbers of ICU started increasing rapidly, then we’ll need more measures,” Dubé said.
On Tuesday, Quebec reported 514 hospitalizations, 121 of which were patients being treated in intensive care.
The premier reiterated that regional health authorities have been asked to quickly shut down operations that aren’t respecting COVID-19 health rules.
In a letter sent to regional health directors on Monday, Dubé said the current powers granted under the province’s Public Health Act stipulate it’s not necessary to wait until an investigation is complete before closing a location.
In a bit of good news, Dubé announced that vaccinations are opening to those above 60 years of age across the province. He also said that public health has given the go-ahead to begin vaccinations for category 8 and 9 groups, those being adults with chronic health conditions that increase their vulnerability to COVID-19 and essential workers.
Combined, those two groups represent some 900,000 people. Details of the new phase will be released on Wednesday.
— With files from Global News’ Alessia Maratta