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MONTREAL -- Quebecers in red zones will be able to enjoy more of the days as they get longer, with Premier Francois Legault announcing Tuesday that curfew restrictions will be eased.
While much of the province has seen its alert level reduced to orange, and the curfew pushed back to 9:30 p.m., Montreal and its surrounding areas, such as Laval, are still classified as red zones, with a curfew that begins at 8 p.m.
But with the number of new COVID-19 cases per day, hospitalizations and deaths dropping, Legault said that will soon no longer be the case, as the curfew in red zones will also become 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. as of Wednesday.
On Monday, Legault had hinted that the curfew could soon be relaxed, saying that topic had been discussed by the cabinet over the weekend.
Along with the relaxed curfew, Legault said theatres and performance venues will be permitted to re-open as of March 26.
The announcement comes just days after Quebecers changed their clocks. Experts have said that with the days getting longer and weather getting warmer, people in the red zones could prove more resistant to being told to be inside by 8 p.m.
Aside from Montreal and Laval, the other remaining red zones are Monteregie, Lanaudiere and the Laurentians.
Legault said the decision was reached after data showed that while there was a bump in cases following the province's March break, "it's limited."
Still, he warned that the rise of coronavirus variants, particularly the U.K. variant, means the province must remain cautious. He said modelling shows that by the end of the month, the majority of novel coronavirus cases in the province will be of the U.K. variant.
Quebec public health chief Horacio Arruda said it's believed around 20 per cent of cases in Montreal are variants, while 33 per cent of cases in the Quebec City region are variants. He warned that a third wave in Quebec remains possible and avoiding it will depend on how Quebecers adhere to public health guidelines.
“Saturday, we had a discussion, we talked with experts for two hours, they did some forecasts. There's no single answer. All regions are not equal and there are different scenarios," said Legault.
Arruda acknowledged that there is no concrete data on how effective the curfew has been in limiting the spread of the virus, but "we see the curfew has reduced contact numbers in residences. It's not the curfew itself, but it's more complicated to gather and have dinner with people in the evening.”
Legault promised that every adult in Quebec who wants to get a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to do so by Fete Nationale on June 24.
But Legault and Arruda declined to make predictions on what that would mean for the summer months, including whether Montreal's numerous festivals will be permitted to take place.
“Good news, but we don't know how good," said Legault.
The premier struck an optimistic tone when discussing the province's progress on vaccinations, saying he believed everyone over the age of 65 who wanted a vaccine would have one by the end of April.
“Every person who is vaccinated brings us closer to the finish line," he said. "We are approaching the goal. You have to hang on. We must resist the temptation of small exceptions because, for COVID, there are no small exceptions. The virus attacks everyone in the same way and it takes advantage of our moments of weakness to infect those we love. We are on the way to getting rid of the virus in the coming weeks and months. Let's stay strong. Let's continue to protect ourselves at all times. Together, we will win against the virus. "
Legault also announced that secondary three, four and five students in Quebec's orange zones will be able to return to class every day as of March 22. Currently, students are only attending class on alternate days.
The curfew will not be a concern any longer in three Quebec regions as of March 26, as Cote-Nord, Nord-du-Quebec and Gaspesie-Iles-de-la-Madeleine will be reclassified as yellow zones.
Arruda warned that while the re-designation does mean restaurants and bars can re-open in the yellow zones, "It will not be like before," as physical distancing must still be respected and activities such as singing and karaoke will remain banned.