Faced with a rising number of hospitalizations and daily cases, the Quebec government has announced a series of measure it hopes will slow the virus’s spread over the holiday period, including closing schools and offices Thursday.
Most retailers will be shut down between Dec. 25 and Jan. 11, doing away with in-person Boxing Day shopping. The rest of the restrictions are also expected to be lifted Jan. 11.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, hardware stores and pet stores will be allowed to remain open. Big box stores will be allowed to open but will be restricted to selling essential goods, such as groceries and pharmacy products.
Provincially run liquor stores and cannabis stores will also remain open.
Dentists, optometrists and other health services will be allowed to stay open, but hair salons, spas and manicurists will have to close starting Dec. 25.
Some changes go into effect earlier.
For the period of time between Dec. 17 and Jan. 11, the province’s yellow zones will be upgraded to orange and orange zones to red — the highest alert level — with restaurant dining rooms, gyms, museums and theatres shutting down as a result.
Quebecers working in offices will have to work from home as of Thursday, unless their presence is absolutely necessary at their workplace.
Some new activities permitted
In announcing the new measures Tuesday evening, Quebec Premier François Legault said the province is also offering a compromise for people living in red zones: up to eight people will be allowed to gather in outdoor public spaces for physical activities.
Outdoor gatherings on private property will remain banned.
The premier encouraged people to take part in outdoor sports, saying the province will allow outdoor hockey games, with a maximum of eight players and one coach, and ski classes, again with a maximum of eight students and one instructor.
In another change, people living alone in red zones will be allowed to join one family’s bubble. Currently, they are only allowed to receive a single visitor.
“We want to give ourselves all the chances of breaking this second wave and to start 2021 without hospitals overflowing,” Legault said.
“We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but it will be a few months before a majority of Quebecers will be vaccinated, but the number of new cases remains high and some hospitals are at their limit,” the premier added.
Elementary schools will not reopen, as originally planned, on Jan. 4, but Legault said schools would supply students with homework and some distance learning. All students, from elementary and high schools, should be back in class Jan. 11.
Daycares will remain open, but Legault urged all parents who can keep their children home to do so. School daycares will be open only for children of essential workers.
The province has reported single-day case totals surpassing 1,600 in each of the last six days, with more than 950 people in hospital due to the virus, pushing the health-care system’s capacity to its limit in several regions.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said Quebec has vaccinated 1200 people in two days.
The Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches regions have had red-zone restrictions in place since Oct. 1.