Quebec tightening COVID-19 restrictions as three regions put on red alert
Strict measures placed on Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches
Residents in three Quebec regions won't be allowed to visit friends or family at home for most of October or eat out at their favourite restaurant as the provincial government struggles to slow the surge of new coronavirus cases.
Greater Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches regions are now considered red zones under the province's COVID-19 alert system, Quebec Premier François Legault said Monday.
"I'm a bit heavy-hearted today," Legault said during a late afternoon news conference.
"We looked at the results over the weekend, and the number of cases has gone up significantly."
This rise in cases could lead to an increase of hospitalizations and deaths, he said, and the government must act quickly in the interest of all Quebecers.
"We need to make some difficult decisions," Legault said.
The new restrictions, announced after Quebec reported 750 new coronavirus cases, take effect 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday and are set to last for 28 days, until Oct. 28, in the red zones. The restrictions are:
- A ban on home gatherings, with some exceptions, such as a single caregiver allowed per visit.
- All bars, casinos and restaurants are closed (takeout only).
- Libraries, museums, cinemas and theatres will also be closed.
- Being less than two metres apart will be prohibited. Masks will be mandatory during demonstrations.
- Houses of worship and venues for events, such as funerals and weddings, will have a 25-person limit.
- Hair salons, hotels and other such businesses will stay open.
- Schools will remain open.
"Schools must remain open," Legault said. "Businesses are open so parents can continue to work and earn money."
Though people are generally following the public health guidelines, Legault said many are not and he showed frustration toward those who are throwing caution to the wind.
"That doesn't make any sense," he said. "We are not putting measures in place just for fun. We are putting measures in place to protect others."
WATCH | Legault announces new measures:
Legault said the government is working on compensation packages for those businesses that are being shut down by the pandemic, though he declined to go into detail about those packages.
The government is enacting the restrictions as of Thursday to give the owners of businesses that will be closed time to prepare, he said.
The government could restrict travel between regions as was done in the spring under public health guidelines, but for now it won't be banned.
However, travel between different regions of the province is strongly discouraged, Legault said.
Legault making right decision, specialist says
The government has been urging people to stop socializing for a month in order to slow the spread of the virus. Now that it is prohibited to gather in homes, Legault said the Public Security Ministry is now exploring how the regulation will be enforced.
Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist at the Université de Montréal hospital, said the government is making the right decision.
"People can get a serious illness even if they are young," she said. "People can die even if they are young."
WATCH | Infectious disease specialist explains why Quebec is so hard hit:
She said the extent of long-term damage COVID-19 is causing to the heart, lungs and other organs is still not known and that it is important that everybody, including young people, does their part to prevent the spread of the disease.
Shutting down for 28 days is a good start, but it's hard to say how effective it will be, Tremblay said. Strict health measures have prevented transmission in other countries, she said, but it all depends on how well the population respects the rules.
The hope is to limit the impact on the health-care network, especially with the cold and flu season upon us, she said.
Cases on the rise in Quebec
Quebec reported 750 new cases on Monday, 245 of which were on the island of Montreal. The Quebec City area, which had few cases during the first wave in the spring, had another 125 cases.
Quebec City and its immediate environs have emerged as a second epicentre of the fall coronavirus wave.
Taken together, the Capitale-Nationale region and Chaudière-Appalaches added more than 1,000 cases from Sept. 20-27.
Infection rates also continued to tick upward in the Eastern Townships, the Mauricie, the Gaspé Peninsula and Lanaudière.
Many regions have set new single-day records for COVID-19 cases; in the cases of Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches, they have tended to be superseded a short time later.
As Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said succinctly last week: "The virus is among us."
Hospitalizations are still manageable, but that could still change, according to Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital.
He said the gradual increase in cases throughout September is similar to what happened in the spring. Because it takes several days for people to develop symptoms severe enough to seek medical care, he explained, it leads to an avalanche of new patients down the road.
WATCH | COVID-19 surge forces new lockdown in Quebec:
"It is quite clear we are going to see this wave of hospitalizations increase and likely accelerate," he said. "It's a little discouraging to see we are going through the same process again."
Quebec's Health Ministry reported Monday there were already more than 5,000 health-care workers in the Montreal hospital network on leave.
"The rise in new cases is not simply because of an increase in the number of tests," said Dr. Donald Vinh, a microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre.
"It's that the tests are becoming positive more often. That's what worries us."
So far, there has been a total of 1,163 cases in 489 schools in Quebec. There are more than 3,000 public and private schools across the province, with more than than one million students and 226,000 staff.
Neighbouring Ontario has also seen a resurgence of the virus. The province reported more than 700 cases today, the most on a single day since the start of the pandemic.
With files from Sean Gordon