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January 26, 2021 – Federal and provincial government update on the COVID-19 pandemic

Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the Canadian and Québec governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A targeted relaxing of measures on the horizon

 Québec Premier François Legault confirmed that if the downward trend continues in the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19, a targeted relaxing of health measures will be announced next week, to take effect as of February 8.

Mr. Legault reiterated, however, that the number of hospitalizations in the Montréal area is still very high, close to critical, and that the relaxing of measures will focus more on regions where the situation allows for it.

The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, also issued a clear warning to the effect that any relaxing of measures will be gradual and targeted in order to prevent regions that have fewer cases of COVID-19 from ending up in another wave of contagion due to visits from people living in higher-risk regions.

Ensuring the vaccine supply

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was reassuring about the supply of vaccines reserved by the federal government even though it seems that it will not be possible to obtain supplies from the United States, and the European Union is exerting pressure to ensure that the vaccines produced there be distributed there.

Mr. Trudeau said that his conversations with the presidents-CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna have reassured him that the four million doses earmarked for Canadians will be received, as planned, by the end of March.

Premier Legault indicated, however, that all of the provincial and territorial premiers are concerned about possible supply problems.

Banning non-essential travel

The prime minister repeated in no uncertain terms that Canadians must avoid all non-essential travel, abroad or inter-provincially, and that new restrictions will be announced very shortly. With the upcoming school break, he warned that now is not the time to travel for pleasure.

Mr. Trudeau reiterated that Canada has imposed some of the most severe restrictions in the world on travelers since the beginning of the pandemic, specifically, a mandatory quarantine upon return to the country and a negative COVID-19 test that must be presented before taking a plane. Moreover, foreign visitors have not been permitted to enter Canada for the last year.

Religious gatherings

Following the incidents on the weekend involving certain religious communities, Premier Legault repeated that no religion has the right to exemptions in the context of the pandemic.

Religious gatherings are limited to 10 people per building, according to government decreed emergency measures.

Rebooting the economy

With the improving situation and the vaccines that will be gradually deployed, Premier Legault sought to reassure the business community as well as workers that the government is taking steps to support a strong and rapid economic recovery as soon as possible, likely in the second half of 2021.

With many businesses having been undermined over the last year by imposed closures, restrictions and the curfew, Mr. Legault noted that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business announced last week that 17% of businesses risk permanently closing across Canada.

The premier pointed out that when this data is disaggregated, 20% of the businesses at risk are located in Ontario versus 11% in Québec, where performance has been better.

Mr. Legault stated that the “steps we’ve taken to help businesses here have had better results than elsewhere in Canada.” To reboot the economy, he is focusing on the new green and digital economy and on the local production of goods.

Efficient vaccination campaign

The minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, announced that the vaccination of 225,000 people, scheduled to be complete by February  8, has already been attained, two weeks early.

The delivery schedule for the Pfizer vaccines will slow the rate of vaccination for the next two weeks. In the meantime, teams have been put in place to train new vaccinators.

Mr. Dubé announced that the desired pace of vaccination is 400,000 people per week in the next phase. Now it is just a question of receiving the vaccine.

Showing the difficult situation in hospitals

All major media outlets are calling on the government to allow them to show the reality in hospitals, which has been impossible for them to do for the last year because they do not have access.

Minister Dubé and Dr. Arruda explained that protecting the sick and showing understanding for those who are refused access to their loved ones in hospital due to the pandemic has justified the ban on allowing media into hospitals.

The government stated that it is sensitive to this request and is trying to find ways to accommodate the media.