High-school students across Quebec to return to class in person full-time
MONTREAL -- Quebec high-school students, even in the hard-hit red zones across the province, will be going back to class in person full-time as of next week.
Premier François Legault said in a press conference Tuesday that this is one of two rules the province can afford to ease as its COVID-19 rates continue to stay, more or less, on a plateau.
Students in grades Secondary 3, 4 and 5, as of March 29, "will stop the hybrid system... they will go to school every day," Legault said.
"And for me that is wonderful news, because that's where our children should be, in school every day."
Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said that reopening schools is always "a risk," but that the risk is controllable.
School-based outbreaks, especially with the virus variants, have led to some unusual and controversial measures lately, such as a pilot project in western Montreal that bumped children's parents to the head of the vaccination line.
The main reasons for taking the risk of reopening now are mental-health concerns among teens and the fact that they can't get as good an education at home, said Arruda.
"There are students who are going to miss their year if they're not at school," he said.
The province is also reopening lunch rooms in most seniors' homes after largely completing vaccination in that sector, he said, which should allow those elderly residents more social contact.
That new rule will apply as of March 24 to all private seniors' homes where at least 75 per cent of residents have been vaccinated.
ONE MILLION VACCINATED IN QUEBEC
Vaccination overall continues to dramatically ramp up, with Quebec hitting the one-million mark Tuesday, at least in terms of people who have received a first dose.
A big shipment appears to have arrived yesterday, and the province is set for skyrocketing numbers this week, Legault said.
"Over the next few days we'll be close to 50,000 vaccine doses a day," he said.
In Montreal, people over 60 are now able to book appointments. This also brings the province to a new turning point: people of all ages with underlying health conditions will be eligible next, which means the province must lay out more explicitly who within this group is considered most urgent.
A panel of medical experts met Monday to try to determine that and the final list will be announced shortly, Arruda said.
The premier, who is 63, also said he plans to get vaccinated himself next Friday in Montreal.
He said he's not sure which vaccine he'll be offered, but he'll take whichever one he's given, and it just remains to be seen whether he can be as "brave" as Christian Dubé, Legault said jokingly, referencing the health minister's publicized shot last week.
VARIANTS TO OVERTAKE ORIGINAL VIRUS NEXT MONTH: LEGAULT
While Quebec has seen a steadier, more encouraging set of numbers than many other jurisdictions that Legault name-checked, including Michigan, New Jersey and British Columbia, it still needs to be careful, with variants overtaking the original virus.
Right now, about 30 per cent of new cases in Quebec are variants, he said, and "next month most of the new cases will be variants."
He also sent a "special warning" to people in Outaouais and the Saguenay, saying their cases have been going up and they need to take care to act within the rules and avoid visiting others.
Those two regions risk being reclassified as red zones if things don't improve, Arruda later said.
He said the idea is "probable," looking at the numbers, but also said the province doesn't consider it a good idea to "yo-yo" between colours and won't make that move until there's a clear, long-term pattern in those regions.
When asked, Legault said Quebec isn't considering putting roadblocks or road checkpoints between Quebec and Ontario in order to protect the Outaouais.
"We see that there's an increase in cases," he said. "However, a lot of people work in Ottawa and come home at night, or the reverse... we have to be realistic."
Ontario has much higher case counts than Quebec right now, but the centre of the problem is Toronto, not Ottawa, Legault said.