Quebec Premier François Legault unveiled the province’s COVID-19 reopening plan on Tuesday, amid dropping pandemic-related hospitalizations.
Legault made the announcement in Quebec City, calling the decision a calculated risk.
As of Saturday, there will no longer be legal limits on private gatherings in homes.
Legault, however, said public health was recommending a cap of 10 people, or people from three different households.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with the virus,” Legault said.
“How many people am I with, how many have three doses, how many are above 60 years old?” he added about the questions people should be asking themselves.
It will be up to people to decide how many people they want in their own homes.
Legault, however, again stated that the best way to learn to live with the virus was by getting three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine.
He also said his government isn’t ready to lift mask mandates or end the vaccine passport system, both of which will remain until at least March 14 before being re-evaluated.
Also beginning Saturday, restaurants will be able to seat 10 guests or people from three different households at one table.
It’s a question of being “coherent,” Legault said.
Monday, Feb. 14
The government is also giving the green light for sports games to resume as of Feb. 14, and gyms and spas to reopen at half capacity.
Meanwhile, outdoor shows and events can host a maximum of 5,000 spectators.
Monday, Feb. 21
The following week, on Monday, Feb. 21, capacity limits will be dropped for all stores, except for amphitheatres.
Places like the Bell Centre, Centre Videotron and the Place des Arts, for example, will have to operate at 50 per cent capacity, up from the current 500-person limit.
“It’s a big change for them,” Legault said.
As for places of worship, they will remain at 50 per cent capacity with a maximum of 500 people, up from 250.
Monday, Feb. 28
While hockey games can restart as of Feb. 14, there will be a two-week delay for sports tournaments and competitions. They are set to resume the week of Feb. 28.
Remote working will no longer be mandatory but will remain a recommendation, Legault said.
Businesses can decide how to manage the risk, he noted.
As of Feb. 28, capacity limits will be dropped for places of worship and entertainment venues except for the Bell Centre and Centre Vidéotron.
Bars and casinos will finally be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity but dancing and karaoke will remain off-limits.
Monday, March 14
Bars can reopen at full capacity, this time with dancing and singing allowed.
Restaurants and entertainment venues, including the Bell Centre, can reopen at full capacity.
“So by March 14, the majority of restrictions will have been lifted,” Legault said. “We’ll be able to get back to a normal life.”
Drop in hospitalizations
While Legault said he understood people were tired of the constraints being imposed upon them, he said his government’s decision to start reopening was not due to public frustration with COVID-19 restrictions or ongoing protests.
Instead he cited a change in hospitalization rates indicating a reduced risk for Quebec’s hospital network.
Over the last three weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped from 3,400 to 2,400, according to Legault.
The province’s top doctor said that while the loosening of restrictions could lead to another increase or a plateauing in terms of the number of patients in hospital, they don’t anticipate another surge.
Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist with the McGill University Health Centre, is relieved the government opted for a staggered approach to reopening.
He did, however, express some concern, saying hospitalizations haven’t dropped as quickly as anticipated, like they did in South Africa, for example.
“I think we have to be a little bit concerned about remaining vigilant as we slowly proceed through this staggered deconfinement,” he said. “We aren’t out of the woods. We are improving, but we are not well.”
He said there are risks to opening up too quickly, including the ongoing spread of the virus.
Vinh also noted that not all hospitals have the same resources, so some are struggling more than others.
He also said the network’s capacity to deal with a surge depends on staffing and inflow.
While Vinh said the health minister is addressing staffing issues by recruiting more nurses, not enough is being done to manage inflow.
“The ultimate goal is to decrease the number of preventable patients that have to go to hospital because of COVID.”
Vinh said things like financial incentives to upgrade ventilation in buildings or public spaces could be one solution for a safer reopening.
“If you could do that, then you would have then you could have a congregation of people in larger quantities but in a safer context,” he said.
When it comes to vaccination, Vinh agrees with the premier that it’s key.
“We don’t talk about it enough,” he said. “Of late, in hospitals, the people who are being hospitalized are people who have had two doses of vaccine but they need four doses because they are immunocompromised.”
More work needs to be done to raise awareness about the need for the more vulnerable to be up to date in their shots.
“If we only address one part of the equation, we may get burned,” Vinh said.
— With files from Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press