Quebec and Ontario in talks to standardize COVID-19 rules across Ottawa-Gatineau region
MONTREAL -- Quebec's premier said Tuesday that he's in talks with the Ontario government to "standardize" COVID-19 rules in the Ottawa-Gatineau region after the Outaouais has shot to the top of Quebec's list of worries.
The region is the most alarming right now to Quebec officials, said Premier François Legault at a press conference.
Montreal is "stable," he said, calling it "almost surprising," but five other Quebec regions have suddenly started showing more cases, including the Outaouais and particularly the city of Gatineau, he said.
"We are discussing right now with the Ontario government to try to standardize our measures between Ottawa and Gatineau, but the situation is worrisome," he said.
He also said that new, stricter rules in the Outaouais in the next few weeks are not out of the question.
"Are we going to have roadblocks between Quebec and Ontario?" he said.
"Do we have to make sure -- and of course that requires the collaboration of Ontario -- but I know that in Ontario there are restaurants that are open with more lax rules than ours," he said, asking what the province's options are.
"I'll give you an example," he said. "If the Outaouais went back to a red zone and we closed down the restaurants, but if those in Ottawa were open, we have to take all those things into account."
Currently, as an orange zone, the Outaouais is under a 9:30 p.m. nightly curfew and restaurants are only open with strict rules, essentially limiting indoor dining to household bubbles.
When asked what tighter rules could look like, Legault said that of course it's an option to go back to an 8 p.m. curfew, which was the case until three weeks ago, but also noted that in other parts of the world, COVID-19 curfews are even earlier, at 6 p.m.
On Monday, the Outaouais posted 84 new COVID-19 cases, and on Tuesday 57 new cases. In the previous week, it saw an average of 59 new cases a day.
However, Legault told media that the most important number to the province isn't new cases but hospitalizations, and especially predicted hospitalizations.
He added that authorities' concerns over the Outaouais are increased because there is a "significant hospital missing" in the Outaouais, statistically speaking. Plans are underway to build a large hospital, but the region is currently considered to have low hospital capacity.
The five regions that are troubling are all ones that were recently redesignated as orange, instead of red, in Quebec's COVID-19 alert system. The other four are Quebec City, Chaudiere-Appalaches, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and the Bas-St-Laurent.
WARNINGS AGAINST EASTER GATHERINGS
There are other new patterns becoming visible in the third wave, which Legault officially acknowledged, a day after his health minister, Christian Dubé, did the same.
"There is a change in the makeup of cases," Legault said. "There are more young people."
On Thursday or Friday, the province will release its new projections, he said.
He implored people not to have in-person gatherings over Easter this weekend and said the biggest risk is visits inside homes.
"The problem is not the rules that are in place, but the people who don't follow them," he said.
Legault said he's asked the province's public safety minister to ensure a police presence over Easter, "to make sure... that [police] would be more present this coming weekend than they usually are."
He said that Quebec's public health agency has found through recent surveys that "about half" of young adults right now aren't following public health rules and go see people inside their homes.
"That's very serious," he said. "It's a matter of solidarity... towards staff in our hospitals and towards younger children."
Young children have a greater need to be in school in person, he said, and they need to maintain the right to be there. He asked teenagers and twenty-somethings to think of that when they're "having parties."
However, he defended his government's decision to bring high-school students back to in-person classes this week, even in red zones -- a move that many of the red zone school boards have said isn't logistically feasible, choosing instead to stagger the students' return.
Quebec's College of Physicians also criticized this week's easing of rules and asked the province to reconsider.
"It's our priority to have children in school," Legault said. Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said that trying to maintain kids' and teens' mental health is also a health goal, along with keeping COVID-19 under control.