Quebec heads into 18-day lockdown; non-essential businesses to close from Dec. 25 to Jan. 11
MONTREAL -- Quebecers may have seen the first glimpse of the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel on Monday but they're also heading into a new lockdown meant to interrupt transmission of COVID-19.
Non-essential businesses will be closed across the province from Dec. 25 through Jan. 11, Premier François Legault announced in a Tuesday press conference, in a deeper, short-term type of "circuit-breaker" aimed at breaking the second wave.
Businesses allowed to stay open will include grocery stores, pharmacies, garages and pet stores.
The lockdown, which Legault dubbed a "pause" and “the holiday break,” will also see the province's elementary schools have their holiday break extended to Jan. 11. Previously, elementary schools were supposed to re-open on Jan. 4.
High schools will have an extended holiday break between Dec. 17 to Jan. 11. Legault warned school-age children that their extended break could include some remote learning and homework.
The province's daycares will remain open, but Legault called on all parents who are able to keep their children at home to do so.
Almost all office workers in both the private and public sectors will be required to work from home beginning on Dec. 17 and lasting until Jan. 11.
Almost all of the province's regions will be re-classified as red zones, with the only exceptions being Abitibi-Temiscamingue, Nord-du-Quebec, the North Shore, Grosse-Ile and Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Nunavik and Terres-Cries-de-la-Baie James, which will be classified as orange.
PRESSURE RISING IN HOSPITALS
Legault said the province's overloaded healthcare system and its workers desperately need the numbers to come down. As he spoke, 959 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Quebec.
“That's very difficult, it puts a lot of pressure on hospitals,” he said.
Asked why shops were given 10 days to continue operating when hospitals are stretched so thin, Legault said it was "a question of balance."
“There's families with young children who want to buy presents," he said. "That's why we set the date of Jan. 11. We want the measures to be spread out over two weeks to accomodate Quebecers.”
Legault also added that stores may opt for a doorfront pickup option rather than letting customers inside.
He said that in response to concerns that big-box retail giants like Costco would unfairly benefit -- they sell groceries and medication, as well as many non-essential retail items -- Legault said these stores wouldn't be allowed to sell non-essential items during the 18 days.
Public Health Director Horacio Arruda stressed that the definition of essential goods will be limited to items such as food and pharmacies, saying anyone who needs to buy winter clothes and shoes should do so before the lockdown begins on Christmas Day.
COMPROMISES AROUND SINGLE PEOPLE, OUTDOOR SPORTS
Single people and those who live alone will also have permission to join a family bubble, among many other detailed rules.
Rules around outdoor activities will also be eased during that time as a kind of compromise, Legault said, including allowing some downhill skiing, opening the Montreal Botanical Gardens, some hockey, and other measures.
Outdoor activities will be restricted to a maximum of eight people, plus a coach or instructor.
The province tried to find a plan that could be applied across the board and could be liveable, the leaders said.
"The virus is everywhere in Quebec, everywhere," said Arruda.
"The holiday period will be a kind of cocooning period, but with a lot of outdoor activities, and that's what we're recommending."
In a statement, Quebec Solidaire co-spokesperson Manon Masse said she was "delighted" the government is promoting outdoor activities during the lockdown but "not everyone can afford to rent a chalet or buy a ski pass. The government must make an effort to make it accessible to everyone."
Health Minister Christian Dube said the government's hope is that all the new measures combined will contribute to a continued decline in the recent numbers of daily cases. He noted the province recently saw record highs of over 2,000 new cases per day, which has since come down.
"That's already an encouraging sign. I think that we can have an impact when we add these measures. All of those measures... it's not only one measure that works, it's a combination,” he said.
“When you remove the schools and add those measures in business and retail, when you have all those measures, we hope the combination of all those measures will make a difference.”
'HOME STRETCH,' LEGAULT SAYS
Legault said that with the first vaccines for the novel coronavirus administed a day earlier, the province had entered "the home stretch." On Tuesday, another 900 doses of the vaccine were administered, up from 300 the day before.
“We believe it's a plan that gives us every possible chance to help healthcare workers who have had a very difficult 10 months," he said.
"It gives us every chance to break the second wave by Jan. 11 so we can start to really re-open. And it will allow us to not overload our hospitals.”
Don Sheppard, a professor at McGill University's department of microbiology and immunology, said Monday that a lockdown of at least four weeks is needed, including of schools.
“The lockdown needs to target the thing that we know is important and that is groups of people in an indoor setting, period,” he said.
“I think the time has passed, unfortunately, for half measures. We know that schools were the earliest part of the transmission and are still responsible for up to 30 per cent of outbreaks.”
Political analyst Tom Mulcair reacts to more restrictions on CJAD 800 radio. Listen here:
- With files from CTV News Montreal's Rob Lurie.
A previous version of this article said high schools will close between Dec. 17 and Jan. 4. In fact, high schools will close until Jan. 11. CTV regrets the error.