Quebec to soon lift public masking requirements

The Health Ministry announced that public masking requirements may end by spring.

Vaccine passport no longer required as of March 12

A man wears a face mask as he looks at a sign illustration COVID-19 preventative measures in Montreal, Saturday, April 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Quebec will be lifting several public health restrictions as early as March 12, according to the Health Ministry.

A number of health measures were due to be lifted on March 14, including showing a vaccine passport to enter certain venues.

"This is a very important step, and we can be proud of all our efforts to get here," Health Minister Christian Dubé said in a statement. "However, we must learn to live with the virus, which is still circulating, and remain cautious."

As of March 12, all public venues may operate at 100 per cent capacity. 

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

Private seniors' residences will no longer need to keep a registry of visitors.

A QR code is scanned at a Montreal gym last September. The province hopes to phase out use of the passport, for now, starting March 12. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Timeline for mask use

The ministry will announce at a later time the exact date masking will no longer be required in public spaces, depending on the epidemiological situation.

"Wearing a mask, even when it is no longer mandatory, will be part of the arsenal we have to reduce the risk of transmission in certain circumstances," Dubé said. 

The tentative timeline to end masking in public spaces with the exception of public transportation will be implemented no later than mid-April, the statement reads.

The last service that will require a mask will be public transit, but even that requirement is likely to be lifted in May.

CNESST rule changes

The Health Ministry said masks will continue to be required in workplaces and health-care settings, such as long-term care homes.

Quebec's workplace health and safety board (CNESST) provided details Wednesday of how workplaces, other than in health care, will evolve.

Starting March 7, minimum physical distancing requirements will drop from two metres to one between workers. 

Wearing a proper mask will continue to be mandatory if there is no physical distancing, the board said in a news release Wednesday.

More changes will be made to workplace health rules no later than mid-April following public health's announcement. At that time, wearing a mask in the workplace will no longer be mandatory, but there will be exceptions. Workers must wear masks when being transported by bus or plane.

By May at the earliest, the masking mandate will be lifted in workplaces ⁠and when workers are being transported by bus or plane.

Emile Morand-Boucharlat says he's more comfortable wearing a mask outside for his personal safety and to protect family members who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. (CBC)

Even with the mandates changing, some Quebecers won't be so quick to ditch their masks. 

Emile Morand-Boucharlat, 17, says he'll likely keep wearing one in public because he feels safer with it. 

"I guess it's good that we're seeing the end of it," he said. "I don't really mind what other people do as long as they don't have COVID and purposefully do not wear a mask." 

Utility of vaccine passports

Vincent Marissal, Québec Solidaire health critic and MNA for Rosemont, welcomed the news of  restrictions lifting, but called on the government to justify the use of the vaccine passport. Quebec has not ruled out bringing back vaccine passport and mask mandates at a later date. 

"I asked this week for a scientific report on the usefulness of this tool in the fight against COVID-19," he said in a statement. "We need to have an accurate picture of the effectiveness of the vaccine passport, justified by rigorous scientific criteria."

He also urged the government to announce an end to the state of emergency because, he says, it has become "increasingly unjustifiable."

with files from Sharon Yonan Renold