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MONTREAL -- Quebec will gradually remove the travel restrictions between regions that it put in place last month to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting May 4, Quebec will remove the provincial police checkpoints set up to control traffic in and out of the Laurentians, Lanaudiere, Chaudiere-Appalaches regions and the city of Rouyn.
A week later, on May 11, travel restrictions and checkpoints for the Outaouais (except Gatineau), Abitibi, La Tuque and Lac-Saint-Jean regions will be lifted.
Finally, on May 18, restrictions will be removed for the Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspesie, Iles-de-la-Madeleines, Charlevoix and Cote-Nord regions.
Deputy Premier Genevieve Guilbault - filling in for Premier Francois Legault at Quebec's daily COVID-19 briefing - said there is no date in place yet for lifting the restrictions on other affected regions.
Police checkpoints, however, which are blocking access to far northern communities and preventing people from crossing into Gatineau from Ontario, will remain for the foreseeable future, she told reporters in Quebec City.
Earlier this week, Quebec announced plans to reopen retail stores, the construction and manufacturing sectors, as well as primary schools and daycares that have been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Guilbault said that as people begin to travel around the province for business, "it's the logical next step" to permit gradual access to the regions.
Neither Guilbault nor the province's top doctor, Horacio Arruda, were clear on exactly what health indicators could push authorities to reconsider their plans to reopen these areas. Guilbault said if the "contagion curve takes off again" or "if the forecasts get cloudy" then authorities would delay implementing their strategy.
"We shouldn't confuse this gradual deconfinement with relaxation," Guilbault said, notng that restrictions could be put back in place if they appear to lead to an increase in the spread of COVID-19.
Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in a region that previously had few cases, "we will intervene rapidly to snuff it out there, without having impacts."
Public health authorities, he continued, will look at data to see how many secondary infections are caused by people who catch the virus in the regions, and how local health-care systems can "absorb new cases."
There are now 1,761 people who have died of COVID-19 in Quebec, health authorities announced Wednesday, as confirmed cases in the province reached 26,594.
That’s up 79 from the 1,682 deaths reported Tuesday; COVID-19 cases in Quebec rose 837 from the 25,757 announced a day earlier.
There are 1,648 people being treated for COVID-19 in Quebec hospitals as of Wednesday, up 23 from the 1,625 reported Tuesday. Of those in a hospital, 222 are in intensive care, up only five from the 217 reported 24 hours earlier.
There are 2,797 people waiting for COVID-19 test results in Quebec as of Wednesday, up eight from the 2,789 reported Tuesday.
The number of people in Quebec who have recovered from COVID-19 as of Wednesday was 6,048, up 207 from the 5.841 recoveries reported a day earlier.
With its 12,487 confirmed cases, Montreal remains the epicentre of COVID-19 in Quebec; you can see a breakdown by provincial region here.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.