Quebec is bringing back its controversial overnight curfew beginning Friday at 10 p.m., which is New Year’s Eve, and continuing to 5 a.m. the next day.
Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement Thursday amid increasing hospitalizations and an exponential growth in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.
Also beginning on Friday, private gatherings in homes will be prohibited. Only people who live alone or need caregivers will be allowed to join another family bubble.
Dining rooms at restaurants will be closed but take-out and delivery options will be allowed to continue.
The province reported a record-breaking 14,188 infections and an increase of 135 pandemic-related hospitalizations for a total of 939 patients, including 138 in intensive care.
Legault said the number of cases to be published Friday is above 16,000.
Earlier in the day, Quebec’s institute for excellence in health and social services (INESSS) released its modelling predictions which show an already dire situation getting even worse.
The more optimistic scenario, based on average growth rates, shows that COVID-19 hospitalizations could reach 1,600 in the next three weeks, while those for intensive care patients could jump to 300.
The second scenario projects up to 2,100 COVID-19 patients in regular beds and 375 in intensive care, which is higher than what the province saw in previous waves of the pandemic.
The institute, however, said the intensification of vaccination efforts, coupled with newly-implemented or upcoming public health measures, could slow the predicted increase in hospitalizations.
Legault pointed to INESSS’ report and modelling from the public health institute as reasons to bring in more measures.
“Our experts tell us there is a risk that we won’t be able to treat everyone, all those who need it in the coming weeks,” he said.
“I know we’re all tired but it’s my responsibility to protect all ourselves from this. This is why I’m announcing new restrictions as of tomorrow.”
Essential workers, people seeking medical care, or people travelling for humanitarian reasons will be exempt from curfew.
Anyone outside their home during curfew hours could be asked to justify their movements.
Fines for breaking curfew range between $1,000 and $6,000.
The province first imposed a curfew during the pandemic on Jan. 9, 2021, and only lifted the health order on May 28.
Quebec is the only province in Canada to have imposed a curfew during the pandemic.
Legault admitted bringing it back was an extreme move but a necessary one under the circumstances.
He promised it would be the first restriction to be lifted once the situation in hospitals stabilizes.
“We’re not doing this for fun, but out of necessity to save our network and save lives,” Legault said.
Earlier in the week Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that some COVID-19 positive health workers, under certain conditions, would be allowed back to work as the network faces an acute shortage of staff because of the virus.
Legault said that in just one week absentee workers jumped from around 5,600 to 12,500, dealing a blow to an already fragile health system.
He appealed to any health workers, even retirees, to come lend a hand if they can.
He also urged people who aren’t vaccinated to get a shot.
“If they become infected with the virus they are 10 times more likely to end up in hospital with serious consequences that can even lead to death,” he said.
Legault added the province is mulling making the vaccine passport a requirement to access a wider variety of services, to not only reward those who are vaccinated, but to protect the unvaccinated from themselves.
To date, 84.5 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Other restrictions added
Other measures meant to stem the tide of rising cases, include pushing back the start of in-person classes for grade schools, high schools, as well as adult education to Jan. 17, 2022.
Daycares will remain open, but school daycare services will only be available for parents who really need it, with a priority given to essential workers.
Places of worship have been ordered to close but can remain open to provide funeral services with a maximum of 25 people.
Stores will be closed on Sundays for the next three weeks, except for some businesses providing necessary goods, like pharmacies, depanneurs or corner stores, and gas stations.
Indoor sports are being suspended unless practiced alone, in a pair or among residents of a same household.
Outdoor sports are allowed to continue but indoor facilities at ski hills and snowmobile relays will be open only to allow people to warm up. People won’t be able to eat food indoors although food services will still be able to offer take-out orders.
— With files from The Canadian Press