MONTREAL -- Intent on keeping highly transmissible variants of the COVID-19 virus out of Quebec, Premier François Legault said Thursday that he’s prepared to insist any returning international travellers quarantine in hotels for two weeks, at their own expense, upon their return.

“It’s clear if we tell eventual travellers that they have to pay for a hotel room for two weeks when they get back, I think we’ll have a lot [fewer] travellers," Legault said.

In explaining the seriousness of their concerns, Quebec’s public health officials have pointed to other countries such as the U.K., where a variant that's circulating in the country is responsible for a spike in cases and in hospitalizations.

However, instead of having to ask for help from the RCMP or Quebec provincial police in monitoring quarantining passengers in hotels, Legault repeated a goal he first mentioned Tuesday, saying he hopes to convince federal authorites to cancel outgoing flights altogether so that travellers will be forced to stay home.

The Canadian premiers are scheduled to participate in a regular conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this evening.

Trudeau has urged travellers to avoid and cancel all non-essential travel, and warned Canadians this week that the rules around travel could change with no notice, but Ottawa hasn't banned non-essential travel.

The good news, said Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda in Thursday's press conference, is that Quebec isn't seeing a worsening problem with the virus variant.

So far there have been only five cases of the variant reported, linked to travel and all from the same family -- and none since.


The government is now also crediting the curfew with a decrease in the number of cases over the last 10 days. Legault thanked Quebecers for respecting the decree, adding “it’s not the time to let down our guard.”

But Health Minister Christian Dube warned that we’re only “halfway there,” and it will still take weeks to see the effect “on the number of hospitalizations -- that will take longer to go down.” 

The still-high number of hospitalizations is also the reason there's no plan to lift the curfew before February 8th, the authorities said.

Legault said the curfew could even be extended beyond that date if the situation in hospitals does not improve.

As of Thursday, there were 1,453 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in Quebec, about 1,400 of them in Montreal alone.

As a result, Legault said, surgeries that have been postponed cannot be rescheduled just yet -- the strain on the system is too great.

Health officials say that maintaining restrictions, limiting gatherings and limiting travel is the only way to contain the spread of the virus, along with the ongoing vaccination campaign.

Almost 36,000 residents of CHSLDs have now been vaccinated with the first dose out of about 40,000 who live in the province’s long-term care homes. Dube said he did not know offhand how many long-term care employees have also received the vaccine. 


Legault also responded to the people and groups that criticized his response to the death of 51-year-old Raphael Andre, a homeless man who died in a porta-potty overnight last Saturday, just steps away from a shelter where he’d been keeping warm during the day.

The federal minister responsible for Indigenous issues, Marc Miller, asked Legault on Wednesday to "show more humanity" in the situation, but Legault pushed back against the personal criticism.

“I was touched, like everyone, by the death of a homeless man. We’re all human and it hurts to see someone die like that in our society," he said.

Legault offered his condolences to the Indigenous man’s family and community.

Policy-wise, however, he said his decision isn't changing. On Tuesday, the premier had refused to grant a request from Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante to exempt the homeless from Quebec's nightly 8 p.m. curfew.

It's thought that Andre may have been hiding from police in the portable toilet when he died. His body was found frozen the next morning.

On Thursday, Legault defended the way police are handling curfew enforcement with people who are homeless.

"They won’t give them tickets for fun," he said. "Their responsibility is to help [the homeless] and guide them to a shelter. But we also need the tools to enforce the curfew that is saving lives. We’re trying to find a balance."