Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé announced some relief of COVID-19 measures across the board on Tuesday.
All new measures come into effect on Nov. 15.
Dubé cited an epidemiological situation that was mostly under control for being able to loosen restrictions.
The big news for bars, restaurants and nightclubs is that the ban on dancing is finally being lifted and clients no longer have to remain seated at their table. Karaoke is also being giving the greenlight, provided the singer is at least two metres away from spectators, is wearing a mask or is separated by a physical barrier.
Vaccine passports and masks, however, will be required in these venues.
The move comes a day after capacity restrictions were lifted for bars and restaurants province-wide.
Dubé said the Nov. 15 implementation date will give health officials a two-week window to see what impact the lifting of capacity restrictions will have on the epidemiological situation.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s top doctor, said that while he expects to see a rise in new infections, it will not have a significant impact in the number of hospitalizations due to people being adequately vaccinated.
Arruda explained that while those who are vaccinated can still get sick from and transmit the virus, the risk of experiencing complications requiring treatment in intensive care is small.
High school students are also getting a reprieve and will no longer be required to wear face masks in their classrooms. Masks, however, will continue to be required in common areas and school buses.
Quebec first introduced a mask mandate in the province’s red zones in October 2020 and moved to remove it ahead of the 2021-22 school year.
The province, however, was forced to backtrack after a surge in new infections brought on by the pandemic’s fourth wave.
However, grade school students — who have yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — will have to continue wearing face coverings in the classroom.
Officials say they are ready to move ahead with immunizing children between the ages of five and 11 but are still awaiting Health Canada’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our objective: our youth — one dose before Christmas,” said Daniel Paré, the head of the province’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
Arruda encouraged parents who might have concerns over getting their children vaccinated to speak to their doctor or public health officials.
Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec professional association of teachers (QPAP), which represents about 8,000 teachers in the English network, is worried the government is moving too fast on removing the mask mandate.
Dubé, however, pointed to a low number of outbreaks and high vaccine coverage among high school students as reasons for lifting the requirement.
Yetman countered that many high school students have siblings in grade schools where there are a lot of outbreaks. The fear is the virus could spread within families and lead to outbreaks in high schools if masks are no longer mandatory.
“Why are we removing measures that seem to be working?” she wondered.
Yetman said teachers would have preferred the directive be lifted after younger children are vaccinated.
Back to work
Employees will also be allowed to attend in-person work environments. Dubé said public health will no longer recommend that employers favour telecommuting over in-person work.
“It will be up to each employer to determine the formula that suits them,” he said.
Dubé also announced that vaccine passports will not be required to take part in open access winter sports taking place outdoors such as sledding, skating, hockey and cross-country skiing. It will be necessary to have proof of vaccination, however, to access activities with ski lifts and face coverings are mandatory in cable cars and other closed areas.
The requirement will allow ski hill operators to function at full capacity.
“We’re very happy and satisficed to hear that we will be allowed to operate our lifts at 100 per cent capacity,” said Louis-Philippe Hébert, president and CEO of Les Sommets ski hill.
With Tuesday’s announcement and cold snow-making weather on the way, Hébert is optimistic about the ski season ahead.
A complete list of modified rules coming into effect Nov. 15 is being made available on the Quebec government website.