Quebec announced a loosening of restrictions on private gatherings, allowing for up to 20 people who are vaccinated to get together starting on Dec. 23.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé made the announcement in Quebec City on Tuesday.
He warned, however, that people should continue to limit contact in a bid to control the spread of the virus.
“We count on Quebecers to be responsible … and continue to respect health measures,” he said.
Quebec’s top doctor, for his part, advised against inviting unvaccinated people to attend private gatherings.
“It’s not to exclude them, but to protect them,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda. “It’s the responsibility of the hosts to not expose the unvaccinated person.”
While he said there are other methods of staying safe, such as physical distancing and mask wearing, vaccination provides the best protection.
The announcement comes as Quebec faces a surge in daily COVID-19 cases.
On Tuesday, Quebec added 1,234 new cases and five deaths attributable to the virus.
The tally of infections now stands at 457,059, while 434,935 people have recovered. The number of active cases has climbed to 10,530.
Dubé said that even though cases have been increasing, hospitalizations remain relatively stable.
On Tuesday, pandemic-related hospitalizations increased by nine to 235 with 30 new patients admitted and 21 discharged. Of those hospitalized, 58 are in intensive care.
Dubé said that public health projections for the next three to four weeks continue to show stability surrounding hospitalizations, allowing for larger gatherings over the holiday season.
Of the new infections reported on Tuesday, 636 were among people who are not vaccinated or less than 14 days removed from a first dose, while 579 were among people who are fully vaccinated.
Health Ministry data from the last 24 hours shows the risk of infection for unvaccinated people is 3.3 times greater than for those who are adequately vaccinated, while the risk of being hospitalized is 15.4 times greater.
The vaccination campaign aimed at giving a first dose to children between the ages of five and 11 before Christmas continues.
So far, 191,423 kids in that age group have gotten a shot, while another 91,077 have booked an appointment.
The percentage of the population having received at least one dose is now 82,2 per cent.
There remains about 640,000 people who are eligible to be vaccinated who still refuse to be get it done, according to Dubé.
He said, however, that number was down from roughly 700,000 people a month ago.
Dubé also announced Quebec will expand the availability of third dose booster shots to include health workers, people with chronic illnesses or health problems that increase the risk of complications from COVID, people living in remote or isolated communities, and pregnant women.
Starting in January, those aged 60 and over will also become eligible for a booster. Both groups combined, represent roughly two million people.
“Remember that a minimum period of six months must be observed before receiving the booster shot,” Dubé said, while reassuring those who might have to wait longer.
“You don’t turn into a pumpkin,” he said, implying that vaccine immunity doesn’t vanish after six months.
Quebec currently offers third doses of COVID-19 vaccines to people 70 and over, to certain people with weakened immune systems and to those who received two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
While Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has “strongly” recommended adults ages 50 and older be offered a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, Dubé said that Quebec’s own immunization committee (CIQ) is making a different recommendation.
“For those under 60, the CIQ decided it’s not necessary for the moment considering that there is no decrease in the effectiveness of the vaccines in those citizens,” he said.
So far, the virus has claimed the lives of 11,594 Quebecers.
— With a file from The Canadian Press