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Quebec asks universities and colleges to reopen this fall without physical distancing

McGill University campus is seen Tuesday, June 21, 2016 in Montreal. Quebec says in-person classes in universities and CEGEPs if epidemiologic situation of the COVID-19 pandemic allows. Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Quebec universities and junior colleges should prepare for in-person classes this fall without the requirement of physical distancing, Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann said Monday.

The new directive will only apply, McCann told reporters, if at least 75 per cent of Quebecers between the ages of 16 and 29 are fully vaccinated and if the epidemiological situation is stable.

“In my view, this is a wonderful challenge for our young people, for our society,” she said in Montreal, adding that the full reopening of universities and colleges depends on the willingness of young people to be vaccinated.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, said if vaccination rates are lower than 75 per cent, there will be too many young people at school vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. While they are less likely than senior citizens to die from the virus, young people are still at risk of developing chronic lung problems, Arruda told reporters.

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Some health orders — such as mask wearing — may remain by the fall, McCann said, adding that extracurricular activities and sports at colleges and universities will remain subject to the same restrictions as elsewhere in the province.

Schools are also being asked to develop backup plans in case the vaccination target is not reached or the epidemiological situation changes, McCann said. But by the fall, post-secondary education will be offered in person as much as possible and students should find a place to live in the cities where their schools are located, she added.

McCann said she met with representatives from the province’s educational institutions on Monday and they are prepared to fully reopen.

“The will is there,” she said.

Read more: Dawson College students vote to boycott final exams

Earlier on Monday, Health Minister Christian Dube reminded Quebecers that the province’s reopening plan is “conditional,” following reports over the weekend of large gatherings in parks and crowded restaurant patios.

“We understand that people, and not only young people, all the population, were anxious to get those measures out of the way,” Dube told reporters in Montreal, a few days after his government lifted the curfew and permitted private outdoor gatherings and restaurant patio dining.

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“This deconfinement plan is conditional on respecting the measures and having a high percentage of the people being vaccinated,” he said, adding that he recognized the large, problematic gatherings reported in Montreal and Quebec City were “exceptional” and a majority of people followed the rules.

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