The Quebec government will reintroduce a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. starting Dec. 31 as the province battles an explosive rise of COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant.
“I know we’re all tired, but it’s my responsibility to protect (Quebecers),” said Legault. “(Experts) agree that, in the coming weeks, there is a risk that the number of hospitalizations will exceed our capacity, which would eventually lead us to no longer being able to treat everyone,” said Premier Francois Legault.
He made the announcement at a Thursday evening press conference, where he was joined by Health Minister Christian Dube and Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda.
People who violate the curfew are subject to fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000.
“The gesture is extreme because the situation is extreme,” the premier added.
Quebecers are also no longer allowed to host private gatherings beyond their household bubble, with the exception of caregivers. Single people, including those with children, can join another family bubble.
Places of worship are also closing, except for funerals of up to 25 people. Restaurant dining rooms must close, and stores will be shut on Sundays for the next three weeks, except for depanneurs, gas stations, and pharmacies.
Elementary and secondary schools, universities, and CEGEPS will extend their holiday closures until Jan. 17.
Outdoor events are still allowed for up to 250 participants. Indoor sports are suspended, except for those played by one or two people at a time, or by a single family group.
“No one here is happy about this,” said Dube. “But is it the right thing to do under the circumstances? We are convinced that it is.”
The measures come as the Omicron variant grips the province with daily infection increases never-before seen anywhere in Canada.
Legault confirmed that recorded cases reached a new record of 16,000 on Thursday, which will be formally reported in Friday’s update.
In Thursday’s update, which was based on cases recorded the day before, the province added 14,188 new infections. Hospitalizations increased by 135 people for total of 939 patients receiving care. Sixteen more were admitted to the ICU, a total of 138, and nine more people died, bringing that total to 11,711.
However, the number of reported cases is likely to be grossly underestimated, due to a lack of testing capacity amid the spike in cases.
Dube told Quebecers to stay home if they have symptoms, rather than trying to get a test.
“When people have symptoms, they should stay home,” said Dube. “Since we are limited in the number of tests that we can give, I think that people can understand that it’s better to just stay home.”
‘UNWANTED’ YET ‘NECESSARY’: VINH
“I think the situation that we find ourselves in is bordering on progressing to catastrophe if we don’t have drastic measures implemented,” said Dr. Don Vinh, infectious disease physician at the MUHC.
“Let’s be honest. These are unwanted measures, but they’re absolutely necessary.”
He says that, while curfews are unpopular with the public, they are a useful tool in limiting community transmission, because they limit social interaction when combined with other restrictions.
“We do have data to suggest that the curfew in its last use was associated with a 30-35 per cent decrease in nocturnal social contacts in Quebec,” he told CTV.
Questions remain on Omicron’s likelihood to cause hospitalizations and death in the people it infects.
In Montreal, a significant portion of those who are infected are young adults, who are less likely to suffer severe COVID-19 symptoms.
While an Ontario study recently suggested “Omicron appears to be the first dominant variant to demonstrate a decline in disease severity,” it remains unclear how it will behave in Quebec.
As cases continue to skyrocket, Vinh says the province is better-off imposing strict measures to avoid a potential breakdown in services.
“What we don’t want to happen is to presume that this is going to be a light outbreak and be ill prepared,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is to gamble on people’s health.”
“What we don’t want to do is find out the hard way that Omicron is actually severe for the Quebec population.”
‘HE HAS LOST CONTROL’
Legault’s political opponents released scathing responses to the new measures Thursday night.
Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade did not mince words in an evening statement, calling the announcement “an acknowledgment of the failure of (Legault’s) management of the pandemic and proof that he has lost control.”
“All Francois Legault announced today is that Quebecers should make additional efforts, but that the government is not fulfilling its part of the contract,” she continued.
Anglade demanded the Legault administration improve access to rapid tests, work to decrease wait-times for PCR tests, and to help schools install HEPA air filtration systems.
“The truth is, a curfew doesn’t affect everyone the same,” said Quebec Solidaire Spokesperson Manon Masse in a statement.
“Single people, abused women, homeless people or large families living in small apartments will find it a lot harder,” she wrote, “The same people always pay the highest price.”
“We must not only put ourselves in restriction mode, we must also find solutions to improve our capacities to face this wave and the others to come,” said the party’s health critic, Vincent Marissal.
“Will the government increase screening capacity? Will schools finally be equipped with air purifiers at the start of the school year? Will he speed up vaccinations?” asked Marissal.
Officials renewed calls for everyone who is able to get vaccinated to limit hospitalizations.
While those with two doses are still able to get infected, unvaccinated people are nearly 11 times more likely to end up in hospital after getting sick.
Unlike Ontario, not all adults are able to get booster shots yet. The province is still rolling out eligibility by age group.
Vinh told CTV he thinks it’s time to open the gates for all age groups.
“(Data suggests) a third dose increases your protection from infection from about 30 per cent to 75 per cent. That is at a population level,” he said.
“We’re not in a situation now where we’re rationing vaccine supply,” he continued. “The best strategy right now is to protect as many people as possible.”
Facing questions on whether authorities would push those dates to allow younger people to get their dose sooner, Dube said the current schedule has not changed:
- Jan. 4: 55-59 years old
- Jan. 6: 50-54 years old
- Jan. 10: 45-49 years old
- Jan. 12: 40-44 years old
- Jan. 14: 35-39 years old
- Jan. 17: 30-34 years old
- Jan. 19: 25-29 years old
- Jan. 21: 18-24 years old
People can book an appointment on the Clic Santé platform when they are eligible. The third dose was also expanded Wednesday to other groups of people, including:
- Private sector health-care workers
- Workers in palliative care
- All school personnel (primary and secondary school as well as post-secondary education)
- Public security workers (fire, police, correctional service workers, civil security workers)
- Community organizations in the health and social service sectors
- Agriculture and fisheries workers, including food inspectors and slaughterhouse workers