MONTREAL -- Montrealers 65 and over could soon begin to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as more doses become available in Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dube announced Tuesday.

At a press conference with Premier Francois Legault and public health director Horacio Arruda, the health minister said the age limit on the Island of Montreal could be lowered as soon as Thursday. 

The current age limit for a shot of the vaccine in the city is 70 and older. 

Thursday will also mark the one-year anniversary of the novel coronavirus being declared a public health emergency, an occasion that will be marked with an official day of remembrance. 

Looking back at where the province was one year ago, Legault admitted the province could have reacted faster to the health crisis this time last year, saying the government could have “done better.”

The CAQ leader drew parallels with the state of Massachusetts, which has a smaller population than Quebec but approximately 5,000 more deaths since the start of the pandemic. Quebec stands at 10,493 deaths due to COVID-19 since March 2020. 

“And despite that, even once we put that context and we can still ask ourselves, could we have done better, and, yes we could have done better,” he said. 

The premier noted that appoximately 20,000 employees were missing from the province's health-care network one year ago, which hindered the government's early response to the pandemic. 

Five regions in Quebec moved from red to orange zones this week, with the exception of Montreal, but the premier hinted there could be some “good news” for the city in the coming weeks. Officials are waiting to see some post-March Break results before making any announcements.

The island is still considered a hot spot for variants of the coronavirus being detected, he added 

Meanwhile, the vaccinations in the province are moving full steam ahead. The health minister discussed details of the mass vaccination plan that will soon see home vaccinations with the delivery of the AstraZeneca doses. He said there are enough preliminary doses to be administered to 20,000 homes in Quebec with the newly approved European vaccine, which is ideal for people with mobility issues due to its storage requirements. The provincial government recently announced it will administer the vaccine to seniors despite a federal panel recommending it not be used in adults older than 65.

The Pfizer vaccine will be directed to mass vaccination clinics already in operation, while the Moderna vaccine will mostly be available through local pharmacies beginning March 15. 

As more and more people are getting their shots, questions are being raised concerning when people will be able to have social gatherings without masks. Health officials in the U.S. said Monday that fully vaccinated people could gather indoors without masks or social distancing, but Arruda said it’s too soon to say when that will happen north of the border. 

“I can’t give you a date,” Arruda said. 

“What I want to say is that we're very conscious of the effect of breaking the isolation in people, that people are going through. As soon as our epidemiology is sufficiently controlled and that we have enough people vaccinated, with certain guidelines. That might be, no mask and go and hug everybody and your grandmother, we’ll probably be able to allow two families to get together as exists in other countries, but it's still too early for me to be able to answer you.”