MONTREAL -- Quebec is clamping down on three regions in the province by increasing restrictions on all kinds of gatherings, including those in private homes, as COVID-19 cases surge.

Health Minister Christian Dubé announced in a rare Sunday news conference that Montreal, Chaudiere-Appalaches and parts of Quebec City are moving up one level, to orange, in Quebec's COVID-19 alert system.

"Unfortunately, the contagion is amplified in three regions," he said. "The number of cases is growing… and our capacity to take care of the sick is diminishing."

The rules for orange zones have also been clarified. Going from the yellow (early warning) level to orange means a cut to the number of people allowed in social gatherings of various kinds, as of 12:01 a.m. on Monday.

In private homes, a maximum of six people is allowed -- with an exception that more people can be present as long as they come from no more than two families, and that each family lives together in a home.

In public settings, in orange zones, gatherings like barbecues and weddings are limited to 25 people, Dubé said. This includes houses of worship.

However, at venues where people stay seated, such as movie theatres and music venues, the limit is still 250.

Bars and restaurants will also face restrictions on capacity and operating hours in orange zones, Dubé said: at restaurants, there is a limit of six people per table, and bars' last call will now be 11 p.m., with a closing time of midnight.

The province is not bringing back restrictions on regional travel, but authorities want to discourage people living in orange zones from travelling to yellow or green zones, they said.

Dubé also discouraged people from getting COVID-19 tests unless they have symptoms, have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are asked to do so by health professionals. Otherwise, the testing system will quickly become overwhelmed, he said.

Portions of two other regions -- the Lanaudiere and the Laurentides -- have moved from green to yellow. The other zones that were already designated as yellow will remain yellow.

In yellow zones, the limit has also changed for public gatherings where people move around, such as parties and weddings. It is now 50, down from 250. 

There will be an update on Monday on enforcement of COVID-19 rules for private homes, Dubé said.

"We're working hard on that, since there are many legal issues," he said.

There will also be new limits on visits to care homes for the elderly, Dubé said, and those will also be explained more thoroughly on Monday.

There is good news for children and teens, however, Dubé said: after-school sports will continue with the same "bubble" rules that are currently set out.

"We must not give up," he said. "I know this is tough, for a Sunday afternoon, to have this sort of news... but I think we can make a difference over the next few weeks."

On Twitter, Quebec Premier François Legault wrote that the infection is growing at a "worrying pace" and urged people not to just follow the rules but to reduce contacts to a minimum.

"We must make an effort... by avoiding having dinner with family or friends," he tweeted.

Legault did not attend the press conference because he is self-isolating at home until Sept. 28 after being exposed to a COVID-19 carrier -- Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, who met with Legault last Monday and has since tested positive for the virus.

Cases have grown across much of Quebec very quickly in the last week.

Quebec public health authorities announced Sunday that there were 160 new COVID-19 cases on the Island of Montreal in the past 24 hours (31,309 total), 92 more in Quebec City (2,969 total) and 19 more in Chaudiere-Appalaches (907 total).

The spike in positive cases in Quebec comes as testing has nearly doubled in recent months.

On June 17, for example, 9,870 people were tested, and by July 17, it was up to 13,499.

Health officials announced that 15,794 samples were analyzed August 17, and yesterday, officials announced that 29,079 samples had been analyzed Sept. 17. (Quebec releases its testing data from two days prior to its daily updates). 

Below is a chart of the regional alert and intervention system in Quebec.