With restrictions extended, Legault hopeful small Christmas gatherings will be permitted

The Quebec government’s decision to extend the partial lockdown in red zones for another four weeks has many wondering when, really, they can expect restrictions will be lifted.

Premier defends decision to impose another 4-week partial lockdown in red zones

Quebec Premier François Legault said his decision to institute a 28-day partial lockdown, and then extend it for another 28 days, is based on the information available. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec government's decision to extend the partial lockdown in red zones for another four weeks has many wondering when, exactly, they can expect restrictions to be lifted.

Premier François Legault said Tuesday that there could be some allowances, however slight, for the holiday season. But only if the coronavirus is contained by then.

"For Christmas, I really hope and I'm confident that in 28 days, we'll be able to maybe not have big parties for Christmas, but to be able to see our families," he said. 

The opposition parties in Quebec City have been broadly supportive of the government's COVID measures but that support clearly has its limits.

On Tuesday, they criticized Legault harshly for failing to be more forthcoming about the length of the restrictions, and the reasoning behind his government's decisions. 

But speaking to reporters, Legault said the situation is "evolving" and that his government and public experts are making the best decisions possible, based on the information they have at the time. 

"Unfortunately, like in many other countries, we didn't see a decrease. At least in Quebec we didn't see an increase," he said, making reference to the soaring case count in France.

Legault also said he would impose fines — not only on fitness centres who defy the order to keep closed — but on their clients as well.

He said the "vast majority" of Quebecers understand the reasoning behind the measures and are willing to comply with them.

The red-zone restrictions were imposed at the beginning of October, in hopes of bringing the virus under control, after the daily case count began surging earlier this fall. That isn't what happened.

Legault wouldn't say exactly what conditions would be required to open up again, only that the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths remained too high to do so now. 

Quebec recorded 963 new cases and 19 more deaths on Tuesday, four of which occurred in the past 24 hours.

Dr. Caroline Quach, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and medical microbiologist from CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal, said on Radio-Canada's Tout un matin the government will need to take a number of considerations into account, starting with the number of daily cases.

"I think we need to be under 500, that's clear, but we also need to see what is happening in hospitals and in terms of the number of deaths," she said, adding that the cases are coming down more slowly than in the spring, given that schools and workplaces are open.

Quach doesn't foresee many of the measures being lifted in the foreseeable future, given that cases are likely to rise if they do and hospitals can't put off the backlog of surgeries and treatments that built up over the spring. 

But she said certain activities, such as going to the movies or a museum while wearing a mask, could be allowed.

Some experts, and a teachers union, have floated the idea of a longer-than-usual winter break to allow people to limit their contacts ahead and be with their families instead. 

Legault all but ruled that out on Monday. He said students had already lost several months of learning time in the spring.

Sonia Lupien, a neuroscientist and expert on stress at the Université de Montréal, said the uncertainty over the duration of the restrictions is an added source of anxiety during the pandemic. 

"The lack of information is a powerful generator of stress," she said.

Given that many outlets for stress are unavailable with the closures in place, Lupien encouraged the public to get outside as much as possible, even just for a walk.

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