Quebec Premier François Legault warned on Sunday that COVID-19 health measures need to be eased carefully despite the recent drop in new virus cases and related hospitalizations.
The province will further lift restrictions on Monday, including moving all the regions remaining at the orange alert level to less-restrictive yellow.
The change means that indoor gatherings will be permitted among two households and outdoor team sports can resume, among other measures.
But Legault said he was disappointed to see images of large outdoor parties, including one that recently took place on the Mohawk territory of Kanesatake.
He told a news conference he was open to honouring a long-time request from the Kanesatake chief by creating an Indigenous police force to patrol the area, but said that in the meantime he had called the provincial police to discuss how to ensure health rules can be enforced in public spaces across the province.
“I wouldn’t like, after all the efforts we made in the last year, that in the last couple of weeks before a majority (of people) are vaccinated, that we don’t respect the rules and have bad consequences,” he said.
Legault said COVID-19 is much less likely to be transmitted outdoors, but it’s not impossible.
Quebec has reported fewer than 200 new cases a day for more than a week, and hospitalizations are less than half of what they were a month ago.
Legault said he’s asked the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, about the possibility of allowing more than 2,500 fans in the Bell Centre to cheer on the Montreal Canadiens as they take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the third round of the NHL playoffs, following a request from the team.
He said he’s had discussions with many people, including Canadiens player Phillip Danault, and understands that the team doesn’t want to be at a disadvantage compared to Vegas, which has opened its arena to full capacity. He says he’s asked if more fans can be allowed inside without compromising public health.
“I’m pushing on Dr. Arruda, but we have to be fair,” he said.
“There are many festivals that were planned in Quebec that were cancelled or reduced to 2,500, so I don’t want to give special rights to the Bell Centre.”
He said public health is also considering whether to allow bars to extend their hours in order to take advantage of the lucrative playoff crowd.
Under current pandemic health rules, bars must stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. and must close at midnight.
Health Minister Christian Dubé issued his own warning on Twitter, saying that despite positive recent trends, the average number of new cases is still higher than it was at the same time last year.
He said Quebecers need to remain cautious and get vaccinated in order to avoid a resurgence such as the one the province saw last fall.