Quebec Premier François Legault announced an extension of emergency measures in the cities of Gatineau, Lévis, Quebec City, as well as the Beauce region, after a spike in new COVID-19 cases.
Of 1,609 new cases, Quebec City registered the biggest jump with 436 infections reported on Thursday, almost double the 250 cases recorded on Wednesday.
Non-essential businesses and schools have been closed in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau since last week, and the overnight curfew in those cities was moved ahead to 8 p.m. On Monday, the same measures came into effect in several municipalities in the Beauce region. Initially the premier said the emergency measures would be in place for 10 days, or until April 12.
The emergency measures have now been extended until April 18.
Restrictions are also being tightened in Montreal and Laval with the reinstatement of the 8 p.m. curfew as of Sunday. It will be maintained until further notice.
Legault said that while the area had not seen an explosion of cases, the high population density makes it more vulnerable in terms of the virus spreading more easily.
“The level of contagion is very high and we expect it to accelerate even more,” he said. “If it starts to explode, it could rapidly create big problems in our hospital.”
Legault said it was a preventative measure only.
“It will help us follow what is going on in houses … we hope it will help us resist a little longer,” he said.
Legault said that lockdown measures are necessary as the third wave is sweeping the province.
Other areas that are being monitored include the Eastern Townships, the Montérégie, the Laurentians and the Lanaudière.
Legault said the Eastern Townships could be bumped up from an orange zone to the maximum alert level if the number of cases continues to increase. The remaining three regions which surround Montreal are already red zones but more restrictions could be added, if need be.
Legault said the situation there remains stable.
Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda also said that people in red and orange zones would now be required to wear masks outdoors if they are taking part in activities with people outside their family bubble.
He said if people were sitting two metres away from each other just talking, then a mask would not be necessary. For activities like walking side by side or playing golf where a safe distance is harder to maintain, however, then a face mask is required.
“The variants are more transmissible,” Arruda said. “We are taking more precautions because of it.”
The premier defended the recent tightening and loosening of restrictions, that many have referred to as a “yoyo” approach. He said that while he acts upon recommendations from public health, ultimately the final decision rests with him.
“When we confine it’s to protect the physical health of residents, when we deconfine it’s a lot to help the mental health of residents,” he said, adding it’s often a delicate balance.
— With a file from The Canadian Press’ Sidhartha Banerjee