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March 31, 2021 – Québec government update on the COVID-19 pandemic

Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the provincial government in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three cities in lockdown, four additional regions in the red zone

 The virulence of the new variant of COVID-19 is forcing the government to impose severe restrictions on three cities in the province, namely, Gatineau, Québec City and Lévis, and to return to maximum alert (red) the regions of Bas-Saint-Laurent, Capitale-Nationale, Chaudière-Appalaches and Outaouais.

Québec Premier François Legault announced that these “special emergency measures” for Gatineau, Québec City and Lévis, ordered as a result of the dramatic increase in the number of people infected with the virus, which is growing “exponentially,” will be in effect from April 1, at 8 p.m., until April 12.

In Québec City, the number of cases per day has increased in one week from 50 to over 200. “We’re expecting a major increase in hospitalizations. The situation is critical. We’re taking swift action to counter the impact as much as possible,” he said.

For these three cities, the curfew has been moved earlier, to 8 p.m., and all schools will be closed along with movie theatres, performance venues, museums, restaurant dining rooms, non-essential businesses—along with the sale of non-essential products in essential stores, which will remain open. Gatherings in places of worship will be limited to 25 people. Telework will be mandatory and childcare services will be limited to essential service workers. Businesses that are closed will receive government financial assistance.

“The alarm has been rung. We must really put a halt to all the little exceptions. There could be an explosion in cases everywhere in a few days,” said Mr. Legault. He reiterated that gatherings in homes are the greatest vector in the spread of the virus and they are still forbidden everywhere in Québec.

The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, added that “travel to these three cities is highly discouraged.”

The decision to transition four regions to maximum alert (red zone), like the greater Montréal area, was done in light of regional hospital capacity.

Other regions could be added

The new model of contagion associated with the British variant, now very present in Québec, could very well lead to new restrictions in the next few days in other regions.

“We can’t rule out that other regions will be added,” said Mr. Legault. “With the new variant, the rise in cases is coming on very quickly. We really need to act fast. Numbers could explode in any region.”

The premier called on people to be very prudent and to follow the health rules, namely, keep a distance of two metres, wear a mask and, above all, not gather in each other’s homes.

He stated that Québec continues to be one of the places in the world where the general measures imposed on the population have been some of the most severe, but as a result Québec is also one of the places that has best managed the pandemic for months, excluding the first wave.

Not yo-yoing, just taking swift action

 The Québec government leader refuted charges that he is “yo-yoing” between imposing severe health restrictions and then relaxing them. Mr. Legault noted that what is being done in Québec is no different from what is occurring elsewhere in the world, noting that France is again imposing very severe measures, and that Ontario will be following suit in the coming days.

Dr. Arruda noted that the uptick in cases, much more dramatic due to the variants, which are both more transmissible and more pathogenic, is the result waning adherence to the health measures. “Adherence to the health measures is often weaker in the regions, which have been less affected.”

Mr. Legault pointed out that in Estrie, Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec, the measures were relaxed and there has been no resurgence in contagion. However, the minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, added “we must remain very vigilant. We’re monitoring the data very, very closely, and we’re acting swiftly, in a more targeted fashion.”

Concern around Easter

The contagion models associated with strong, medium and weak adherence to the health measures will have a major impact on whether or not there is an exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and people in intensive care, said Minister Dubé.

“Weak adherence to the health measures could bring us back to 2000 cases a day,” said the minister, who made it clear that the government will take action to prevent this from occurring.

Premier Legault and Minister Dubé are concerned about the gatherings that could take place during the Easter long weekend. “In every region, there are celebrations for Easter. There can be no gatherings,” they said.

Premier Legault ended on a hopeful note, pointing out that, unlike last year during the first wave, we are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the vaccines.

“While waiting for the end of the vaccination campaign, we must stick together so that our children can go to school and we can relieve pressure on hospital staff,” he said.