Quebecers can have some holiday cheer if they quarantine before and after Christmas, government says
Plans includes distance learning for students and an extra week's break for high schoolers
In order to celebrate the holidays next month, Quebecers are being asked to enter into a "moral contract" with the government and quarantine themselves for a week before and a week after Christmas.
Premier François Legault said the government will, in exchange, lift the ban on indoor gatherings and allow small groups of friends and family to see each other from Dec. 24 through Dec. 27.
Legault's "moral contract" represents his government's attempt to strike a balance between popular demand for some holiday cheer and the need to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
"Allowing us to see each other for four days entails risks," Legault said. "But we have to remember that family is at the heart of who we are. It is at the heart of our nation."
As part of the plan, elementary and high schools will offer online learning between Dec.17 and Dec. 22.
Elementary school students will return to class, as scheduled, after the winter break, but high school students will have an additional week of online learning in January. They will resume classes in-person on Jan. 11.
Throughout this period, child care services will be offered only to essential service workers. Special-needs schools will operate as usual.
Here are the key dates to keep in mind:
- Dec.17: Voluntary quarantine period begins. School moves online.
- Dec. 24-27: Indoor gatherings permitted, maximum 10 people, no limit on how many households can attend.
- Dec. 28: Voluntary quarantine period resumes.
- Jan. 3: Voluntary quarantine period ends.
- Jan. 4: Elementary school classes resume in-person. High school students attend class online.
- Jan. 11: High school students return to in-person classes.
The prospect of a short period of near normalcy next month will be welcomed eagerly by most Quebecers.
Much of the province has been under partial lockdown since October. Restaurants and bars are closed and most gatherings are prohibited.
Legault confirmed what many had suspected would happen: The current partial lockdown will be extended until Jan. 11. And government programs to help businesses affected, such as gyms and restaurants, will also be extended.
The measures appear to have stopped the exponential rise in new cases, but Quebec still registers upward of 1,000 new infections daily. There are currently 651 COVID-19 patients in the province's hospitals.
Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda made it clear on Thursday the holiday plan depends on cases and hospitalizations remaining stable, and Quebecers continuing to follow public health guidelines.
"It's important that this announcement gives us hope of having a safe Christmas with family. But it is conditional on the effort to stabilize and decrease the [epidemiological] curve," Arruda said.
The plan is also voluntary. Legault is asking businesses to co-operate as much as possible, and let employees work from home if they can, but they will not be forced to do so.
Stores will remain open during the quarantine period. Arruda, however, encouraged Quebecers to either shop online or hit the malls as soon as possible, to avoid the usual crowds of last-minute shoppers.
How to dream of a safe Christmas
Provincial health officials will circulate more information in the coming days about steps people can take to prevent infection during their holiday gatherings.
Even though travel between regions is not prohibited, it is strongly discouraged.
And on Thursday, Arruda said Quebecers shouldn't use the four-day period around Christmas to see as many different people as possible.
"The fewer gatherings, the better," he said.
Arruda also recommended that elderly people should stay distanced as much as possible and avoid holding young children for extended periods.
"We want to protect the elderly, not isolate them," he said.
Legault pointed out that, as part of the deal, Quebecers will not be allowed to hold New Year's Eve parties, no matter how small. He told them to stay home instead and watch the popular end-of-year sketch comedy show Bye bye.
"And forget about 2020," Health Minister Christian Dubé added.