March 16, 2021 – Provincial government update on the COVID-19 pandemic
Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the Québec government in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Curfew at 9:30 p.m. across Québec as of March 17
Québec Premier François Legault announced that the curfew will be pushed back to 9:30 p.m. across the province starting tomorrow. All private gatherings remain prohibited at all times.
This loosening of lockdown measures is now possible for several reasons, in particular Quebecers’ behaviour during spring break, which seems to suggest strong compliance with health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Mr. Legault noted that there was in fact an increase in the number of cases, but it has not been dramatic.
Full attendance in high schools as of March 22
Premier Legault also announced that in orange zones, students in grades 9, 10 and 11 will be able to attend classes on a daily basis instead of on alternating days, as is currently the case.
Loosening of restrictions in red zones as of March 26
Several measures will be loosened as of March 26 in red zones, namely the reopening of show venues and bars, with some restrictions.
“It won’t be anywhere near comparable to the way things were in bars before the pandemic,” said Dr. Arruda, regarding the bubbles that must be respected and the banning of karaoke. The details will be announced soon.
Places of worship will be able to welcome 25 people at a time instead of 10, and show venues, 250 spectators.
Three regions move to yellow
The premier of Québec also announced that as of March 26, Northern Québec as well as the North Shore, Gaspésie and Îles-de-la-Madeleine will move to yellow, with the lifting of the curfew, gatherings limited to two families per household and the resumption of group sports, although there will be some restrictions. The details will be announced soon by Minister for Education Isabelle Charest.
Fear of a third wave
As the government begins to loosen these health measures, Quebecers must continue to be vigilant in following the rules in order to limit the spread of the virus, given that the new variants will be the major vectors of contagion in Québec over the next month, explained Mr. Legault.
The premier cautioned that the next few weeks will determine whether or not Quebecers will be able to take advantage of summer.
Mr. Legault stressed that predictions are not simple. The projections are complex. In addition to the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the average age of people vaccinated must be considered, as well as the data evaluated for each region and their variations. According to the premier, there is no easy answer.
Dr. Arruda pointed out that with the new dominant variants soon to be present in the community, strict adherence to the health measures in the context of the announced loosening of restrictions will ensure the province’s ability to control the spread of the virus. “Moderate adherence, where families gather despite the ban or people gathering in broader circles, could spark a third wave,” he said.
The concern is justified, since Italy, France, New York and Ontario are already grappling with the third wave and new lockdown measures.
François Legault explained that Québec is counting on its ability to control the variants and its accelerated vaccination program to minimize the spread of the disease.
“Without this, the virus will spread very quickly. We could end up with 1,500 hospitalizations very fast, which would be critical,” said the national director of Public Health.
Vaccinations completed by June 24
The vaccination campaign is running so efficiently that Premier François Legault and the minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, announced that all Quebecers who want to be vaccinated will receive their first dose before Québec’s national holiday, on June 24.
The vaccination pace reached a record 34,000 people last Saturday, and with 1,000 pharmacies in the Greater Montréal region where vaccination will be possible as of March 29, Québec estimates that people 65 years of age and older will all be vaccinated by April 15.
The premier reminded Quebecers that this is an important step in the fight against the pandemic because 95% of people who died from COVID-19 were older than 65. They also represented 80% of hospitalizations.
With the arrival of the expected vaccines, the vaccination capacity will reach 350,000 people per week, which means that 4 million people will be vaccinated by June 24.
“This means there’s hope for a better summer,” said Mr. Legault.
Assuaging concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine
The government’s leading lights in the fight against the pandemic offered reassurances about the British AstraZeneca vaccine, whose efficacy and safety have been proven.
They reiterated that the batch that could have caused thrombosis was identified and was not delivered to Canada.
Minister Dubé stressed that only 1 to 2% of people are currently refusing to be inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. At the same time, he announced that he will soon be vaccinated in Montréal, publicly, and that the vaccination centre where he has booked his appointment will be offering the AstraZeneca vaccine. Mr. Dubé reiterated that he did not choose the vaccine and that he is confident about its efficacy and safety.
Minister Dubé called on Quebecers who have been vaccinated to exercise caution by not letting their guard down and continuing to follow the health guidelines.
He reiterated that it takes up to four weeks for older people to be immunized by the vaccine and that, during this period, they could still be infected, which has sadly already happened.
Studying the possibility of vaccinating children
The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, explained that international studies are currently being conducted to assess the possibility of vaccinating children, in particular by adjusting the doses, due to the fact that the new variants are more contagious and present more risks for children.
A yearly occurrence?
Dr. Arruda agreed that it is still too early to determine if the COVID-19 vaccination will have to be done on an annual basis in order to protect against a new pandemic, but he hopes that herd immunity will prevent this. However, this will be determined over the next few years.