All but greater Montreal region to be an orange zone after March break
Government looks to loosen restrictions around show venues, sports and houses of worship in red zones
Quebec Premier François Legault is scaling back public health restrictions in all but the Montreal region starting March 8, but vows that there will be more sports and outdoor activities allowed in the province's last red zones soon.
"There are no more increases in cases and hospitalizations," he said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
However, the health network is still strained in the Montreal region and, with COVID-19 variants on the rise, cases and hospitalizations are expected to go up soon.
"The vaccination is going well but we still have a few critical weeks ahead of us," Legault said.
Along with the island of Montreal, Laval, Montérégie, the Laurentians and the Lanaudière region will remain in red zones while the rest of the province will be allowed to once again hit the gym, dine at favourite restaurants and even stay out past 8 p.m., as long as people don't mind training alone or eating just with members of their own household.
Plus, they have to make it home by 9:30 p.m. because there's still a curfew, just not quite as early.
Orange zones, under Quebec's colour-coded regional alert system, have fewer restrictions than red zones, but it's still not life as normal and there are several rules to follow when out and about.
For example, it is prohibited to have social visitors from another address, except for those who live alone.
Houses of worship will be allowed to welcome up to 100 people, but bars, breweries, taverns and casinos are all to remain closed.
Legault said the province is looking at ways to loosen restrictions around show venues and houses of worship in red zones.
The government will also allow extra-curricular activities and sports in schools — even in red zones — starting March 15. It is also in discussion with sports federations about how to resume sports more widely, but Legault said it's clear some sports cannot be allowed given the risk of transmission.
The premier said the government is working on a plan to gradually scale back public health measures farther across the province should the situation allow. However, the situation is not expected to improve any time soon.
Vaccination campaign in full swing
Though the province is working to vaccinate the population as fast as possible, with some 800,000 doses of the vaccine expected to arrive this month, an increase of cases is expected, Legault said.
That increase is expected to hit the Montreal region the hardest, he said.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said more information will be released on Thursday about how dire the situation is in the Montreal region's health network — how little leeway there is for a sudden spike in hospitalizations.
At this point, there is no way to know what will happen after March break, Legault said. After the holiday break, the province saw a significant increase in cases and hospitalizations, but if people did a better job of following the public health rules this time around, the increase won't be as bad, the premier said.
"We don't know what is going to happen in the coming weeks, after spring break," Legault said.
"There is a real risk of a third wave right now."
Only the regions farthest from Montreal have passed into the orange zone in recent weeks.
Those regions include: Outaouais, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the Lower St-Lawrence, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the North Shore, Northern Quebec, Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands.
Orange zones still have rules to follow
Starting March 8, some 40 per cent of Quebec residents will be in orange zones. A list of what is allowed in Quebec's orange zones can be found on public health's website.
Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said rules are being relaxed in orange zones, but there are still strict orders to follow as COVID-19 is still present in the community and the variants are particularly worrisome.
"There's no way to guarantee they won't go back to red in those regions," he said. "It's not a total lifting of regulations. Each person has a role to play."
All primary school students will still need to wear procedural masks, but in orange zones that rule is not applied. Legault said this regulation will not change and Quebec is not the only place applying such a regulation.
"We are still in a race against the clock," said Legault. "We definitely see the light at the end of tunnel. If we stick together, we can win."