If you live with someone who has COVID-19, Quebec will no longer ask you to stay home

As of Saturday across Quebec, it will no longer be necessary to isolate after coming into close contact with a person infected with COVID-19.

Provided they have no symptoms, close contacts of people who test positive will no longer need to isolate

Dr. Luc Boileau, interim director of public health for Quebec, says the epidemiological situation in the province "allows us to be optimistic," but he urges Quebecers to remain vigilant. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Quebec public health officials have announced the easing of more public health measures this weekend as key health indicators, such as hospitalizations, continue to trend downward. 

As of Saturday, the same day that other pandemic restrictions are being lifted, people who come into close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 will no longer have to isolate at home for five days, provided they are not showing any symptoms.

They are urged to avoid infecting others over 10 days following contact, by monitoring their symptoms, avoiding close contact with others, wearing a mask and avoiding going to places where they would need to remove their mask, such as bars and restaurants. 

Dr. Luc Boileau, interim director of public health for Quebec, made the announcement Thursday, basing his decision on the epidemiological situation which, he said, "allows us to be optimistic."

Speaking at a news conference, Boileau said better days are approaching, but "the pandemic isn't over." 

While numbers for hospitalizations and intensive-care unit admissions are improving — with fewer than 1,200 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients — Omicron and its sub-variant BA.2 should be taken seriously, he said.

"The virus is still there, and it's doing damage every day, particularly to the most vulnerable," said Boileau. He said BA.2 — circulating widely in countries like Denmark and South Africa — may be 40 per cent more contagious than Omicron. 

He said Quebecers have a responsibility to help protect the most vulnerable, including people who are immunocompromised, seniors and those with chronic illnesses. He urged people to continue washing their hands and wearing masks where required. 

As of Saturday, all public venues may operate at 100 per cent capacity, and a vaccine passport will no longer be required for entry in places where it has been compulsory. 

Restaurants, bars, taverns and casinos can resume regular business hours without enforcing seating limits at tables. Dancing and karaoke will be permitted once again.

Last week, Quebec also announced a tentative timeline to end masking in public spaces by mid-April, and for public transportation, in May. 

'A normal prom'

Quebec also announced Thursday that Secondary Five students will be able to celebrate high school graduation with a regular prom this spring, after two years beset by disruptions and outdoor ceremonies. 

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge made the announcement in a tweet this morning.

"I want to acknowledge everyone's resilience in allowing the 2022 graduating class to celebrate this rite of passage," he wrote. 

After proms were cancelled in 2020, the government allowed them to go ahead last year, but only outdoors.

Boileau said the change to the rules is due to the "extremely well-vaccinated student population." 

Dr. Marie-France Raynault, the senior strategic medical advisor for Quebec Public Health who appeared alongside Boileau during Thursday's news conference, said students will still be advised to keep a distance of one metre when possible, but the festivities can otherwise proceed without requirements. 

"It will be a normal prom for these young people," she said. 

'Shifting the burden' to the vulnerable

Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, says easing isolation measures for those who have COVID-19 will lead to "shifting the burden of protection on the more vulnerable," such as people who are immunocompromised, have chronic diseases or are unvaccinated.  

"It's going to make it more dangerous for them than it will for the majority of the population," he said. "Although I can understand the desire to reduce restrictions, we have to understand that this is not a completely safe situation for everybody." 

The government's mixed messages are already causing confusion, says Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre. 

"I'm perplexed, frankly, as to what everybody is supposed to do and what logic we're supposed to be applying here," he said.

"It's almost as if they're, in a way, covering their bases." 

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, says the government announcements are contradictory. (Submitted by Sandra Sciangula)

Quebec stopped making PCR tests available to the general public in early January. Despite the relatively easy access to rapid tests, the results of those home tests aren't routinely included in provincial data, meaning real-time information on the disease's presence across the province is unavailable.

"We're going to rely on you knowing that you're exposed to somebody who didn't have testing capacity," Vinh said. "We're also going to rely on you not only having that information despite the absence of any available, but also to morally act on it."

"I think that's the situation we're in, right now, at least until after the election." 

with files from Lauren McCallum