Quebec orders shops, bars, restaurants, churches to operate at 50 per cent capacity


Published December 16, 2021 at 7:10 pm

MONTREAL — COVID-19 vaccination is no longer enough to prevent Quebec’s health system from becoming overwhelmed, and Quebecers must reduce their contacts by half, Premier François Legault said Thursday.

Hours after new modelling indicated hospitals in the province could reach dedicated COVID-19 capacity within weeks, Legault announced a series of added COVID-19 restrictions.

Starting Monday, all bars, restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues across the province will be required to operate at 50 per cent capacity. Churches and other faith venues will also be forced to operate at half capacity, and worshippers will be required to show proof of vaccination to enter.

Work parties will be banned, as will dancing and singing karaoke inside bars, clubs and restaurants. The premier also reversed a decision to ease indoor private gathering limits ahead of the holidays, keeping the maximum at 10 people instead of raising it to 20 on Dec. 23.

“It’s important to say that in this fight, vaccination is not sufficient,” Legault said. “The second thing is that we have to reduce contacts to be less often around other people.”

Asked if Quebecers would find themselves under a curfew again this winter — the last curfew was in effect from January to May — Legault refused to rule it out. He said Quebecers are far more vaccinated compared with last winter, but he said they need a third dose of vaccine to protect against the Omicron variant. He said booster doses would be available in January for Quebecers under the age of 60, and the minimum interval between second and third doses will be reduced to three months.

“It’s not impossible that we will have to adjust,” he said. “With the information we have today, these are the measures we need now.”

Earlier Thursday, Quebec reported 2,736 new cases of COVID-19 — the highest number since Jan. 8 — and Legault said the number will jump to at least 3,700 on Friday. The Health Department reported five additional deaths linked to the disease and said 305 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 63 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, a Quebec government health-care research institute said Thursday it expects more than 700 non-ICU hospitalizations in the province, and more than 160 people in intensive care, within two to three weeks. The Institut national d’excellence en santé et services sociaux said it had adjusted its projections to take into account new research about the Omicron variant.

“The strong growth in the number of cases should translate into a marked increase in the number of daily hospitalizations in the coming weeks,” it said in a new release. That number of patients would require hospitals to set aside additional COVID-19 beds, Health Department spokeswoman Marie-Claude Lacasse said in an email.

But the institute said it was less confident than usual in its projections, because it said its data on the Omicron variant was based on a single study conducted in South Africa, which has a significantly lower vaccination rate than Quebec.

Also Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens said their home game scheduled for that evening would be held with no fans in attendance at the request of public health officials. The NHL team said in a news release it would provide an update Friday on whether fans would be allowed to attend a game scheduled for Saturday.

“We have obtained assurances that beginning with our games in January, we will return to a partial capacity scenario and be able to host fans once more,” the team said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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