Yes, you can walk your dog, and other questions answered about Quebec's new lockdown restrictions

Quebec is keeping high schools closed for a week longer than planned and many businesses closed for a month. It is also implementing a curfew in attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19. Here are some questions, big and small, about the new measures.

We've broken down some of the main points of concern as most of Quebec prepares for a 4-week curfew

After a rise in COVID-19 cases, Quebec is instituting the strictest measures since the spring. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Quebec has put in place a series of lockdown measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions include the extended closure of many non-essential businesses, as well as new limits on gatherings and an overnight curfew.

The new measures will go into effect Saturday and will last until Feb. 8.

Here are some key questions answered about the new rules.

Why is Quebec introducing another lockdown?

Premier François Legault says the health-care network is at risk of being overwhelmed as COVID-19 spreads in the province.

"We have had the battle of our lives and unfortunately the battle is not over," Legault said, citing the rising number of cases and hospitalizations in announcing the new restrictions.

How long will schools be closed?

Elementary schools will reopen on Jan. 11 as planned. High school students will be required to attend classes in person as of Jan. 18. Until then, they will continue distance learning. 

In an effort to reduce transmission, all elementary students except those in kindergarten will have to wear a mask in hallways, common areas and on the playground.

Students in Grades 5 and 6 will now be required to wear masks in classrooms.

High school students will continue to wear masks in classrooms. What's new is that students and staff will be given two government-issued disposable medical masks per day.

Will daycares stay open?

Daycares for preschool children will remain open to all parents.

Meal services will not be offered in school daycares. Parents should pack a cold lunch or hot meal in an insulated container for their children. 

After-school daycare services will close only if public health declares an outbreak in the affiliated school. 

Which businesses are closed and which will be allowed to stay open?

Health services, such as dentists and optometrists, are still open, but manicurists, spas and hair salons are closed.

Liquor stores and cannabis stores remain open. 

Non-essential businesses, including sit-down restaurants, gyms, movie theatres and museums, will remain closed until Feb. 8. 

Restaurants must stop offering takeout at 7:30 p.m. but they can continue offering delivery services, including through third-party companies, during curfew hours.

There will be no religious services with the exception of funerals, which will be limited to 10 attendees. The government is encouraging families to postpone funeral services.

The manufacturing sector will remain open. Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said while the sector has seen many outbreaks, almost all of them occurred in the food sector, which cannot be shut down. 

Can I buy a winter coat or other goods?

You can still order online and have items delivered.

The government will also allow non-essential businesses to offer curbside pickup to encourage sales while allowing customers to practise physical distancing. 

Why is the government imposing a curfew?

While some medical experts have questioned the efficacy of a curfew, Arruda said it is designed to serve as "a signal, but it also allows us to decrease possibilities of contact that might continue after a certain time."

"If you ask me if there is a control study that shows that, the answer is no. We want to decrease the probability of contacts." 

Arruda said he suspects that while Quebecers may not have held parties over the holidays, small gatherings contributed to the spread of the virus. 

The near-provincewide curfew will be the first of its kind in Canada during the pandemic, though there have been some localized curfews.

The only region that is excluded from the curfew is Northern Quebec. 

What are the new rules for gatherings?

Gathering with people from outside your household bubble is prohibited at all times. Police will continue to issue fines to those who don't follow the guidelines.

For people who live alone, the government is still allowing the exception of one visitor from another address, but it should be the same person to limit social contacts.

Can I walk my dog after 8 p.m.?

Pet owners can walk their animals even after the 8 p.m. curfew, as long as they stay within a one-kilometre radius of their home.

What about late-night jogs or smoking on my stoop?

On Thursday, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said that while people are allowed to be outside in their own backyards after curfew, no circulating in public will be allowed, even on foot.

She said this includes smoke breaks on public sidewalks.

What if an emergency or my job requires me to be out at night?

Quebecers who require emergency medical attention and essential employees who work past curfew may go out without receiving fines. They may be asked for proof from the police.

When do groceries close? What about dépanneurs?

All grocery stores and dépanneurs are required to close by 7:30 p.m. 

One exception will be made for pharmacies, gas stations and dépanneurs attached to gas stations, which may stay open past 7:30 p.m.

Pharmacies can continue selling medication and essential products. Gas stations will only be allowed to sell essential products. 

What about public transit?

For its part, the Société des transports de Montréal (STM) has not unveiled new measures related to the curfew, but tweeted on Wednesday that it was analyzing the situation.

In the brief statement, the STM said that "essential workers will still be able to use public transit, you can count on us, even during curfew."

Will libraries stay open? 

Municipal libraries will continue to lend books, and the government will now allow them to open their doors to students who want to study there, as long as they remain physically distanced. 

The goal is to provide internet access and a quiet space for students who require it.

Can I go skiing? 

Skiing is allowed and hills will remain open. However, only members of a same household can ski together as a group, and only before the 8 p.m. curfew. 

The same goes for skating, walking or other winter sports. They are permitted individually, or with family members, before curfew hours.

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