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January 6, 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.

Lockdown and curfew

Québec Premier François Legault announced a return to lockdown across Québec and the introduction of a curfew, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., starting Saturday and running until February 8.

Mr. Legault justified these exceptional measures to break the second wave of the global pandemic, which has been having a more severe impact in Québec than the onset of the first wave last spring because the situation has deteriorated (number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths) and continues to be critical in hospitals.

“We’re in a race against time. Unfortunately, we lost that race over the last few months. That’s why we’re introducing shock therapy. Over the next month, the battle will be at its worst,” said Mr. Legault.

Essential businesses will be required to close their doors at 7:30 p.m. so that employees can get home by 8 p.m. Pharmacies and service stations will be able to stay open during the curfew. Quebecers will only be allowed out of their homes during curfew for essential reasons.

Police officers will be able to issue fines of $1,000 to $6,000, in addition to $542 in fees, to anyone outside their home during curfew. An authorization form is being prepared for people working in essential services that they will be able to present to the police as needed.

Sectors authorized to stay open for work

The premier explained that dozens of scenarios were considered and each option had its pros and cons.

Essential activities in manufacturing construction will be permitted, but telework for office workers will be mandatory.

Movies and television series will continue to be filmed, and the Montréal Canadiens will be able to kick off their hockey season on January 13, with the first game to be played on January 27 at the Bell Centre, minus a live audience.

Mr. Legault states that this entertainment is appreciated and necessary in these difficult times.

Non-essential businesses, closed until February 8, will be able to offer curbside pickup in order to help people out. “For instance, to buy a snowsuit,” said Mr. Legault.

Places of worship must close, except for funerals, with a limit of 10 people in attendance.

School a priority

Since outbreaks in schools were very limited, the government will permit the reopening of elementary schools on January 11, as scheduled, but students will be required to wear a mask or face covering in the hallways, and students in grades 5 and 6 will have to wear one in the classroom.

High school students will resume online learning at home on January 11, and return to the classroom starting January 18. However, the government has added that it will provide two procedural masks per day per student and staff member.

“School is a priority for me. Our children must be able to continue to learn,” said Mr. Legault.

Municipal libraries open

While it was already possible to borrow books and other material from municipal libraries, they will now be open to allow students to study there and have access to high-speed Internet and a quiet place to study and read.

Individual outdoor activities permitted during the day

Considering the restrictions the population has been under since March due to the pandemic, the premier is permitting individual outdoor activities during the day, such as skiing and walking, even in tourism regions like Estrie, the Laurentides and Charlevoix.

While the premier reiterated that inter-regional travel is not recommended, he thinks it is more important for people to be able to engage in physical activities that are good for the morale.

People 65 years of age and over

Premier Legault stated that people 65 years of age and over represent 20% of the population, but 80% of hospitalizations related to COVID-19.

Taking care to point out that he does not want to “stigmatize” people in this age group, Mr. Legault called on them to be “hyper prudent.” He added, “This is not about limiting your freedom. But it’s extremely important to stay home. This is not the time to be taking risks. Be careful.”

He also asked that they not babysit their grandchildren in the current context.

Awaiting vaccine doses

Premier Legault, along with the minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, stated that logistically Québec is able to vaccinate 250,000 people a week, but at present Québec is only receiving a maximum of 42,000 doses a week.

“We could vaccinate 1.2 million people by the end of January, but the federal government will only be providing us with 233,000 doses,” said Mr. Legault.

Negative COVID-19 test for travellers arriving from abroad

The federal minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, confirmed that as of midnight tonight travellers from abroad will have to prove a negative COVID-19 test result before being allowed to board a plane for a Canadian destination.

Minister Garneau stated that there will be some exceptions, such as people travelling from South America and the Caribbean, who will be allowed to provide the results of a test done within 96 hours (four days) instead of 72 hours (three days) before their flight, that is, until January 14. People travelling from Haiti and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon will be exempt from this rule until January 21.

The minister of Public Security and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, reiterated that these travellers will also have to respect a 14-day quarantine and that offenders could be fined and even imprisoned.

No travel strongly recommended

The federal ministers of Foreign Affairs and Health, François-Philippe Champagne and Patty Hajdu, emphasized the fact that the Canadian government has been strongly recommending, since last March, that Canadians not travel, without exception, to limit the spread of the pandemic.

Mr. Champagne explained that the decision to impose a negative test before entering the country was not taken lightly. Despite the frustrations that this can cause, these additional measures are necessary, given the number of outbreaks and cases of people infected with the virus both in Canada and around the world.

The minister of Foreign Affairs stated that people who are abroad must be prepared to face difficulties returning to Canada, since new travel restrictions could be imposed without notice. Furthermore, no repatriation missions will be organized.

No country to be denied access

The minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, removed the rule prohibiting flights from the United Kingdom as of midnight, in light of the new measures imposed on travellers in order to return to Canada. There will be no ban on flights from South Africa where a new COVID-19 variant, more contagious than the original virus from China, was found.

Mr. Champagne and Mr. Garneau added that it would be too complicated to ban flights abroad, given the different circumstances that could justify them, such as illness, the death of a loved one or maintaining a property.