By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Quebecers will have to learn to live with COVID-19, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said when he announced his deconfinement plan for the province in a press conference Tuesday afternoon from Quebec City, saying most government-imposed health measures would be gone by mid-March.
As of Saturday, government-imposed limits on private gatherings are removed, thereby allowing Quebecers as many people as they like in their homes for Super Bowl parties and other social gatherings.
“Public Health recommends that Quebecers try to limit their gatherings to 10 people, or three bubbles for the time being, but there are no legal limits on gatherings,” Legault announced, adding the government would remove the 500-spectator limit on arenas but keeping the 50-percent-capacity in place for the time being, thereby allowing the Bell Centre to accommodate up to 11,000 or so spectators for games and concerts.
In addition, as of Monday, sports games will be allowed to begin and spectators will be allowed in the building. Tournaments will be allowed to resume at the end of the month. Previously, Legault announced that gyms and spas will also be allowed to re-open as of Monday, to 50-percent-capacity
“Hockey games are allowed to go on, but tournaments, where everybody comes together will have to wait until February 28,” Legault added.
Bars will be allowed to re-open as of that date as well, Legault said, to 50-percent-capacity (dancing and karaoke will still be forbidden, however), and the 50-percent-capacity limit on auditoriums will be removed, with the exception of very large arenas such as the Bell Center or the Videotron Center in Quebec City. Casinos will also be allowed to re-open as of that date, to 50-percent-capacity, and the work-from-home order issued by the government will also be lifted as of that date, leaving the situation up to individual employer to manage that with their employees.
As of March 14, dancing and karaoke in bars will be allowed and large arenas will be allowed to fill to capacity, Legault added.
“By that date, the last of the sanitary measures will be lifted,” he said.
The wearing of masks indoors and the vaccine passport, on the other hand, will be around for the foreseeable future, health minister Christian Dube and Quebec Public Health director Dr. Luc Boileau said.
“We are not lifting the mandate of wearing masks indoors at this time,” Boileau said, adding he would reconsider allowing kids to go unmasked in schools in six weeks. “By March 14, we will revisit that, but I think it’s a good tool that keeps Quebecers protected.”
Dube said the vaccine passport will also be a part of Quebecers’ lives for the foreseeable future as well.
“We will keep the passport for the time being,” he said, in reaction to the news Saskatchewan intends to remove that requirement from life in their province as of Monday. “The way I see it, it’s here to stay. We haven’t even expanded it to three doses. We will give people time to get those third doses and we encourage them to do so. If, for instance, we arrive in September and there is a sixth wave of the virus, it will be a good resource for us to manage that,” he said.
Despite a small rise in hospitalizations over the weekend, Dube said the government is comfortable with the situation in the province’s health-care institutions to allow the lifting of sanitary measures.
Legault said the plan to re-open was not done in reaction to weekend protests in Quebec City and the ongoing occupation of Ottawa, but was, in fact something they had been planning for some time _ but that the level of stress on the system was too high, until last night.
“No, we have been asking for such a plan for a few weeks now, but until last night, the risk was too high. Last night, they informed us that the risk could be a calculated one and we can go forward,” he said. “I know the population is fed up. I’m fed up.
We’re all fed up, but there was too much risk in our hospitals,” he said.
The province recorded 2,240 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the IORI:WASE. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.