Indoor pools, movie theatres to open in Quebec's red zones for March break
Premier François Legault says most measures will stay in place to prevent resurgence of COVID-19 cases
Quebec Premier François Legault says movie theatres and indoor sports facilities across the province will be allowed to reopen during March break, but the rest of the province's red-zone restrictions will stay in place in all but one region.
The Outaouais will be downgraded to an orange zone, Legault said on Tuesday afternoon. This is based on the fact that the number of new cases there and in the Ottawa region is stabilizing, he said.
As for the rest, residents can expect restaurant dining rooms to stay closed and the 8 p.m. curfew to remain in place.
"The pandemic is not over," Legault said. "There are still some significant risks."
He said cinemas, sports arenas and indoor pools will be open on Feb. 26 to allow parents to enjoy activities with their children.
He said children need activities and parents need opportunities to entertain their children during the break, but people must respect public health measures.
No indoor gatherings allowed
Legault said stage theatres and musical venues are not opening. He said cinemas can be operated safely with people sitting two metres apart, and they can be reopened quickly with little preparation.
Theatres, he said, would need more time to prepare.
There will be no roadblocks between regions, as police will focus on ensuring there are no gatherings at private homes.
People will be allowed to gather in groups of eight, but Legault said people are not allowed to rent chalets or hotel rooms with other family bubbles.
Legault reiterated that any type of indoor gathering is strictly prohibited, and tickets will be issued. Police have been issuing about 1,000 tickets per week, he said.
"We have a few difficult weeks ahead of us," Legault said. "Spring is coming. But if we want a beautiful spring, we have to be careful."
He said there have been a growing number of COVID-19 variants that are more contagious, and public health officials are concerned these new strains of the virus will spread.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said there are 16 confirmed cases and 86 suspected cases under review, with most of them being from the United Kingdom, known as B117. He said most of these cases are in the Montreal region.
He said more information about how Quebec plans to intercept and prevent the spread of these variants will expanded on in the coming days.
Cases dropping, but medical staff are tired
Meanwhile, Legault said the recent drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is encouraging, but surgeries and other treatments are still being delayed.
At the same time, he said nurses and other medical staff are exhausted. Protecting the health network from another surge in cases, as was seen after the Christmas holidays, remains a priority, Legault said.
More than 2,000 people were testing positive for the virus each day following the Christmas break, and officials do not want that to happen again, the premier said.
That spike in cases prompted the government to enact the 8 p.m. curfew on Jan. 9, and the premier says that is why the province is seeing a steady decline in new cases as it discourages people from gathering in homes — an activity that has proven to be extremely difficult for the government to control, he added.
Quebec reported 669 new cases of COVID-19 and 20 more deaths on Tuesday, including six in the past 24 hours. The number of new cases was the lowest in months, and hospitalizations have dropped by 33.
The concern is that if people do not respect the public health rules during March break, cases will again skyrocket. Legault said that's why so many restrictions, such as the curfew and the closure of restaurants, must stay in place.
Relaxing of rules to be monitored
Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said the success of public health measures is dependant on the population.
"We should not see a significant increase in cases if people respect the rules," said Arruda. "It always depends on the respect of the measures. It's not just March break that is dangerous. It's the behaviour of the people."
Arruda said this relaxing of the regulations will be monitored and re-evaluated. It is too soon to say if the rules will stay relaxed, he said.
Citing the expected expansion of the vaccine campaign in the coming weeks, the health director said the end of the struggle is nearing, but this is not the time to slack off on the rules.
"We're in the last kilometres of the marathon," Arruda said. "Right now, we are concentrating on spring break."
with files from Radio-Canada