Quebec in its entirety will go green, the lowest and coveted level on the COVID-19 alert scale, starting next week as the pandemic’s grip on the province loosens.
The designation means fewer public health restrictions across all regions amid the continued downward trajectory of novel coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
“We are exactly where we want to be,” Premier François Legault told reporters gathered in Montreal on Tuesday.
The zone change will relax rules including limits on gatherings in homes, which can host up to 10 people from three different addresses. The sweeping green designation will come into effect next Monday.
Legault said that when it comes to backyard gatherings, up to 20 people from different households will be allowed.
“On Monday, we will go from small parties to medium parties,” he said.
As of next week, Quebec will also permit a maximum of 250 people at funerals and wedding ceremonies — but they must remain seated. A wedding reception is capped at 25 people if the event is indoors and 50 people if it takes place outside.
Restaurants and bars will also see measures eased. Outdoor patios (known as terrasses) will be permitted to accommodate 20 people per table.
Under the same plan, Quebecers who have had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to gather indoors without having to don masks as of this Friday. Festivals with a cap of 3,500 will be also be permitted at the end of this week.
With vaccination ramping up and pandemic indicators dropping, the government has gradually lifted measures as part of its reopening roadmap.
One-fifth of Quebec’s population is considered fully vaccinated, according to the latest data. The province’s public health institute said Tuesday about 80.4 per cent of Quebecers 12 and up have received at least one dose of vaccine while 20 per cent have received both doses.
Legault also urged young adults to book their shots. There is still work to be done to reach the province’s target. Both shots are important in fighting the pandemic and eventually finding some normalcy again, he added.
“It’s very important that people under 40 get vaccinated,” he said.
Vaccination is crucial to preventing a spike in cases come the fall, he added.
Caution still needed, pandemic ‘not over’
Quebec is slowly emerging from restrictions and immunization is gaining stream, but authorities say people should still be on guard.
The limitations on gatherings and physical distancing measures need to be respected, Legault said, especially given that most of the population is still not fully vaccinated.
“I think we have to be careful,” he said. “We have to keep groups small.”
The province’s director of public health also urged Quebecers to keep abiding by restrictions even as case numbers continue to decline.
“We know the virus nourishes by contacts,” Dr. Horacio Arruda said, adding that it’s not the time to be among hundreds gathering together in one place.
The head of Montreal public health echoed the concern in a press conference following the province’s announcement.
Dr. Mylène Drouin said the situation is improving in the city, which was once the epicentre of the virus in Canada. But after a rough winter and with the presence of variants, vigilance is still needed in the coming months.
“It’s not over,” she said.
“We don’t want to see all our efforts to go down the drain.”
In Montreal, the positivity rate has dropped to one per cent as infections fell to an average of 46 new COVID-19 cases per day last week. There are fewer outbreaks, a trend that will continue as schools break for summer, Drouin said.
The goal now is to get as many Montrealers vaccinated as possible over the summer — specifically parents of school-aged children who haven’t signed up for their first dose yet.
“It’s really a collective effort,” she said.
The rollout has been going well up until now in Quebec, according to Arruda. He said it’s normal that some people are hesitant, but he stressed that vaccination is key to keeping the virus at bay.
“The more people vaccinated, the more freedom,” he said.
Can Quebecers with one dose travel?
Quebec health officials said discussions are still ongoing with the federal government over the definition of who is “fully vaccinated.”
In Quebec, someone who has recovered from COVID-19 and has had one dose of a two-dose vaccine is considered adequately vaccinated.
The federal government, however, says only those who have received two vaccine doses can skip the two-week quarantine requirement for travellers when Ottawa relaxes the rules on July 5.
Arruda said the province will offer a second dose in the meantime to people who have had COVID-19 and only one shot and who want to travel.
“In the context of those wanting to travel soon and absolutely needing a second dose, it won’t be refused to them,” Arruda said. “My advice is if you’re not travelling right away, you can wait until decisions are taken at the international level.”
—With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian PressView link »