Curfew in Montreal, Laval rolled back to 8 p.m., lockdown measures extended in Quebec City, Gatineau
Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement at a news conference today
Fearing an explosion of new cases in Montreal and Laval, Quebec Premier François Legault announced he was rolling back the curfew in the two cities to 8 p.m., starting on Sunday.
He also announced the added lockdown measures in place in Quebec City, Lévis, Beauce and Gatineau — where variants of COVID-19 are spreading rapidly — will be extended until April 19.
The situation is so bad in those areas, Legault said, that on just about every street, or every neighborhood, there is someone with the virus. "It's everywhere and people of all ages have it," he added.
On Thursday, Quebec reported more than 1,600 new cases, its highest total since Jan. 23. Positivity rates in the Outaouais neared 20 per cent, well above the five-per cent threshold recommended by the WHO.
Hospitalizations have increased sharply outside Montreal in recent days. Projections released Thursday by provincial experts suggested hospitals would reach capacity in the next three weeks unless current infection rates diminish.
Dr. Alexis Turgeon, a critical care physician at the CHU de Québec–Université Laval, a large Quebec City hospital, said they have beds available in their ICU, but stressed the situation is "fragile."
"We are, obviously, very concerned and it's been a very rapid spread in the region," he said.
Surprise decision to roll back curfew
Given the level of concern about the situation outside Montreal, it came as little surprise the Legault government decided to extend the emergency lockdown measures in the Quebec City, Chaudière-Appalaches and Outaouais regions.
What did come as a surprise, however, was the decision to move the curfew from 9:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Montreal and Laval.
Infection rates have remained stable in the Montreal area since March. Earlier this week, Montreal's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, said the city had been successful so far at containing the spread of variants.
But Legault said government experts believe it is only a matter of time before cases rise in Montreal as well.
"The level of contagion is very high and we expect it to accelerate even more," the premier said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
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He added there was a possibility that in-person learning would have to be halted at schools in Montreal and Laval if the case load worsens.
Schools switched to online learning only last week in Québec City, Lévis, Beauce and Gatineau. Non-essential businesses were closed there and the curfew brought back to 8 p.m.
Defending the 'yo-yo' approach
The Legault government had classified those areas as orange zones in mid-March, easing many of the strictest public health measures that had been in place.
Several measures were also lifted in Montreal, including returning older high-school students to class full-time, but the government backtracked less than a week later.
Legault defended what many have derided as his "yo-yo" approach to applying restrictions, saying other governments around the world have been forced to do the same thing in response to the more contagious variants.
"Our challenge is finding a balance between mental and physical health," he said.
The premier also attracted criticism earlier this week when he appeared to shift blame for that decision onto public health officials, including the provincial head of the division, Dr. Horacio Arruda.
On Thursday, Legault sought to clarify how the decision was taken. "We work together," he said of Arruda and his team. "But at the end of the day I am the one who makes the decision."
With files from Ben Shingler and Antoni Nerestant