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March 3, 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.

Greater Montréal remains in the maximum alert zone

Québec Premier François Legault announced that the Greater Montréal area will remain in the maximum alert zone (red) with the ongoing curfew of 8 p.m., while six regions will move into the orange zone (level 3 out of 4). The curfew in the orange regions was shifted to 9:30 p.m.  Restaurants, fitness centres, performance halls and theatres will be allowed to reopen and sports activities in pairs will resume. Places of worship will be able to welcome 100 people instead of 25.

The Greater Montréal area, that is, the island of Montréal, the Laurentians, Lanaudière, Montérégie and Laval, will remain in the red zone due to the British variant and the impact of spring break on the spread of the virus.

Premier Legault explained that after having recording a constant decrease in the number of cases and hospitalizations for weeks, the numbers have remained the same over the last 10 days or so. “Experts are predicting a rise in contagion in the Montréal area. And when this happens, we’ll be facing a difficult situation,” said Mr. Legault.

In this context, he asserted that “out of prudence, we can’t start changing the colours of these zones,” and easing measures.

Extracurricular activities and the wearing of masks at school

The premier announced that extracurricular activities will resume across Québec starting March 15 and that children in grades 1 to 4 will have to wear masks in red zones as of March 8. In orange zones, students will be obliged to wear masks as of Grade 5.

The decision to expand the wearing of masks is due to the fact that nearly one-third of COVID-19 cases occur in schools. Despite this, the national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, assured the population that extracurricular activities will be beneficial for physical and mental health among young people who need to engage in sports and social activities.

Plan to gradually ease sports restrictions

Premier Legault, himself a sports enthusiast, promised that a plan to gradually ease sports restrictions will be presented next week.

“There’s nothing better than sports to reduce stress and preserve mental health,” said Mr. Legault.

However, it is too soon to allow young people to resume playing hockey due to the high risk of contagion. The easing of restrictions will be gradual in order to ensure a measured return to activities while avoiding a resurgence of the pandemic.

A race against the clock for another month

Mr. Legault agreed that “everyone is fed up” of the pandemic, but said that Quebecers are now about one month away from overcoming the crisis, which he compared to a race against the clock. Mr. Legault explained that, on the one hand, there is the spread of the British variant and the effects of spring break on the pandemic and, on the other, the benefits of vaccination.

“We still have a risky period of about a month ahead of us,” said Mr. Legault. The real risk is a third wave of contagion, in which the British variant would prove to be more contagious than the original coronavirus strain.

However, the premier has high hopes, after assurances from the federal government, that Québec will be receiving 800,000 doses of the vaccine this month. Pharmacists will also start vaccinating the population as of March 15, which will speed up immunization.

Mr. Legault congratulated Québec’s Public Health department that was the first to delay the inoculation of the second dose from 15 to 90 days in order to immunize more people. Health Canada is now endorsing this strategy and has even extended this timeframe to 120 days.

“We’re going to take advantage of this leeway,” said the minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé. This one-month timeframe will enable the vaccination of an additional 250,000 Quebecers. “That’s major,” he said.

Wage subsidies and commercial rent assistance extended

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the wage subsidy and commercial rent assistance program will be extended without any reductions until June 5, contrary to what was initially planned.

The 65% maximum assistance for commercial rent will therefore remain intact, as will the 75% maximum for the wave subsidy.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland explained that the extension of these programs, as of March 14, will cost $2.1 billion more for the rent subsidy, for a total of $6.5 billion, and $13.2 billion more in wage subsidies, for a total of $96.7 billion.

Deputy Minister Freeland stated that over 858,000 more Canadians are still without work due to the pandemic.

Support for scientific research

To relaunch scientific research in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a $518-million investment package to support 102 research projects through the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

The prime minister explained that this investment in vaccine innovation and research is necessary in the context of the pandemic, which is a reminder of the importance of investing in scientific research.

Some 1,000 researchers will receive direct support for their research, laboratory equipment and the development of databases.

The logistics challenge of the vaccination campaign

The prime minister is delighted about increased approval, production and delivery of the different COVID-19 vaccines.

He assured Canadians that over 6 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive in Canada by the end of the month, followed by tens of millions of additional doses. Mr. Trudeau said that all governments are working in collaboration with a number of institutions and companies to ensure that the logistics challenge of distributing and administering the vaccines does not impede the vaccination of millions of Canadians.