MONTREAL -- In a press conference Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault said the plan is not finalized for the Christmas period, but one is taking shape: to keep children home after the holidays as a type of society-wide circuit-breaker before school restarts.

"Our main obsession and our major topic of discussion right now is what will we be able to do for the holiday season?" Legault said, adding that the government is hearing from many citizens asking for news.

People are saying "I have to plan for the holiday season, I have to get ready -- how many people will I be inviting?" Legault said.

"For people who need to prepare their tourtières and all that, I want to be able to tell people how many people they'll be able to invite," the premier said.

An announcement is coming in the next few days. Whatever it is, Legault said, it will apply across the province, regardless of the colour of each region's COVID-19 "zone."

But it's already clear, he said, that big gatherings of dozens of people will not be allowed.

What the government is trying to plan around is the possibility of small family holiday celebrations.

"What we are looking at is perhaps extending the Christmas break after Christmas and New Year's," he said, "so there can be a type of quarantine for children before they go back to school.. following these holiday gatherings."

The details are getting ironed out, he said. For example, "do we add a third week or a fourth week?"

The government appears to not be expecting that they can realistically plan around the idea that people will forgo all Christmas get-togethers, even if asked.

"During the holidays there will be gatherings," said Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda.

So the province is trying to devise a system that will stop the holidays from becoming a super-spreading event.


When asked why the weeks after Christmas, not before, were seen as the most effective time to quarantine, Arruda gave two answers.

Arruda said that the government is still considering all options, including shutting down schools early, and having two quarantine periods, before and after Christmas.

"As I said, the discussions are not done yet," he said, and both ideas "could be looked at."

But having a roughly two-week quarantine after the holidays would make contact tracing easier along with preventing further spreading of oubreaks begun at Christmas, said Arruda.

That model means that "we will increase the probability of transmission within [the Christmas period]," he said.

"If people develop the illness while they're decreasing their activities, it'll be easier to do the contact tracing with these people and also to isolate them and to isolate their contacts."

It's the "same idea" as the mandatory 14-day quarantine for Canadians returning from foreign countries, he said.

Later, Arruda was asked if failing to isolate children before Christmas wasn't the best way to stop the holidays from spreading the virus in the first place.

He said it's "an issue of practicality" and that the province is trying to get a "good equilibrium" in how much it keeps people at home.

"Everybody could go back home and stay there for a month," he said, but "that would be impossible -- people would get crazy."

With the post-Christmas quarantine plan, there is a smaller cushion already built in before the holidays, since children's last day of school is "let's say" Dec. 16, he said.

He didn't explain in more detail why the province sees more practical problems with extending that time and making it a full quarantine rather than doing so after Christmas.

"The impact of stopping things is there, you know?" he said. 

"The virus is circulating everywhere, so I think it's for practical reasons."


The government plans to make an announcement around the holidays in the next few days -- around the same time that Montreal and many other "red zone" areas are set to hear if their current lockdown, which is set to expire on Nov. 23, will be extended.

Legault didn't leave much suspense around that question, saying that "there shouldn't be major changes on the 23rd of November."

He said one priority as government revisits red-zone lockdown rules is trying to find more ways for children and young people to participate in various activities.

The weeks after Nov. 23 will also be crucial in determining how dangerous the holiday period ultimately becomes, said Legault.

"If we are able to keep the same restrictions in place between the 23rd of November and the holiday season... that should help us to have a nicer holiday season," he said.