Quebec will lift some of its health restrictions designed to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in the coming days, the province’s premier said Tuesday.
François Legault unveiled the new plan, which includes allowing restaurants to reopen with limited capacity as of next week, during an update on the situation. Vaccination passports will be required, as they were before the latest closures.
“I told you last week that we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Legault said. “I think we can say today that we are out of the tunnel.”
The government has also given the green light to indoor private gatherings, but for a maximum of four people or two households starting on Monday. People in long-term care homes and private seniors residences will also be allowed to have more visitors — provided they are adequately vaccinated.
Students will also be able to participate in extracurricular activities and sports will be allowed for anyone under 18. Practices will be permitted, but competitions remain off limits.
“The idea is to go gradually, carefully,” Legault said, referring to loosening some measures.
The second phase comes on Feb. 7. Cinemas and other venues will be able to reopen, but with capacity limited at 50 per cent or for a maximum of 500 people. Places of worship will be able to operate at half capacity, for a maximum of 250 people.
Meanwhile, no reopening date has been set for bars or gyms.
“I know people are fed up but at the same time, we have to be careful,” Legault explained.
“We have to think of people on the front lines of our hospitals.”
The decision comes about a month after the province tightened rules to slow an Omicron-fuelled surge of cases. Gyms, bars and entertainment venues in Quebec have been closed since December, as have restaurant dining rooms. Private gatherings have also mostly been off limits.
Legault has been facing pressure from sports organizations, the cultural sector and restaurants to loosen measures. Some business owners have recently threatened to reopen regardless of the restrictions.
READ MORE: More rapid tests coming to Quebec schools, pharmacies this week
The province reported 85 new deaths Tuesday and counted a total of 3,278 patients being treated for the disease following a slight drop of hospitalizations.
Pandemic-related hospitalizations are beginning to fall, Legault said, but the health network is still strained.
“As you can see, there is a drop,” he said, referring to the number of hospitalizations. “But it’s not a quick drop.”
Legault said that is why they have to be responsible when it comes to reopening. He also cautioned that the Quebec’s health system is “in rough shape” and it will take time to build the hospital capacity the province needs.
“We have to be able to make decisions to reduce the number of deaths as well as respect the capacity of hospitals,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, the daily case tally stood at 2,977, but officials say that count isn’t representative of the situation because PCR testing is reserved for certain high-risk groups.
—with files from The Canadian Press