Just in time for the holidays, Quebec announced Tuesday it will allow private gatherings of up to 20 people in homes starting Dec. 23 in another easing of public health restrictions.

Currently, only 10 people from no more than three households are allowed in private homes. 

Health Minister Christian Dubé made the announcement during a press conference Tuesday alongside Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, who recommended the new measure. Dubé stressed, however, that public health "strongly recommended" that everyone gathering in homes be vaccinated. 

Other public health restrictions previously announced, including wearing masks in public settings, remain in effect.

"Public health, however, asks us to continue to limit our contacts if we want to continue to control the virus," he told reporters Tuesday. 

"For the moment," there is no end date for the new gathering limit and no immediate plans to reverse the regulation, Dubé said, though public health will monitor the situation.

So, why the change?

Arruda said there are a few reasons why he recommended a doubling of the private home gathering limit, the first of which is the stabilization of hospital cases in the last few weeks. While the number of new daily cases has exceeded 1,000 recently, hospitalizations have remained mostly stable. 

There's also the good news that the new Omicron variant is not circulating locally in Quebec, apart from people who have recently travelled abroad, according to a "one-off survey" of cases from Nov. 30. 

Another reason, cited by Arruda, was the results from a meeting on Monday night with public health officials on COVID-19 modelling in Quebec, which are expected to be released to the public on Thursday. 

If people want to socialize with someone who is not vaccinated at a home gathering, Arruda recommended they follow existing public health measures, including wearing a face mask and physical distancing. 

"We strongly recommend not to have unvaccinated people in those gatherings for obvious reasons," Dubé added. 

MORE BOOSTER SHOTS

The province also announced Tuesday it will offer third "booster" shots of the coronavirus vaccine to health-care workers, people with chronic illnesses, people in remote communities and pregnant women -- about one million additional people -- as of Tuesday, and to people 60 and older in January. People 70 and older were already eligible to book an appointment for a booster shot. 

The roll-out of booster shots to people 60 and older in the New Year will be done gradually:

  • as of Jan. 4, 2022, people 65 to 69 can book an appointment
  • as of Jan. 6, 2022, people 60 to 64 can book an appointment

Eligible people will still have to wait six months from their second dose before getting their booster shot. Appointments can be made by visiting the Clic Santé website. 

Arruda said the evidence points to continued adequate immune response to the virus with two doses of the vaccine for people under 60 so, for the moment, boosters will be reserved for only people 60 and older. 

The health minister said there are still 640,000 people in Quebec who are eligible to get a vaccine but are not yet vaccinated. About a month ago, that figure was slightly over 700,000.