QUEBEC CITY -- Quebec Premier Francois Legault is asking all people returning from travel abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.

The measure will be mandatory for all government employees.

He is also asking organizers to cancel all indoor events attracting crowds of more than 250 people and all other large gatherings that are not considered essential.

Montreal's St. Patrick's Parade and major sporting events have already been postponed.

The next two weeks will be decisive in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in Quebec, he said.

Legault made the observation Thursday in the National Assembly during question period, shortly before he announced the new preventive measures against the novel coronavirus in a press conference with his Minister of Health, Danielle McCann, and Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health.

"The next two weeks will be critical,'' said Legault, who added he hopes to avoid the catastrophic scenario in Italy, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic.

Contrary to what he said when he tabled his 2020-2021 budget on Tuesday, Minister of Finance Eric Girard no longer rules out having to run a deficit to meet the needs of the health network if the situation in Quebec gets out of hand.

Legault had said on Wednesday that if things went wrong and Quebec was hit hard by COVID-19, his government could count on a stabilization reserve estimated at $14 billion.

Later Thursday, Legault will travel to Ottawa to participate in a meeting with his fellow Canadian premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on managing the pandemic.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2019.