Youth, 'left aside' in pandemic, are poised to bring Quebec to vaccine benchmarks: minister
MONTREAL -- Quebec authorities struck a hopeful note Tuesday, focusing on the young and saying that teens and young adults seem prepared to rocket the province to the vaccination levels it needs to reopen more fully.
Authorities aren't ready to present the plan for reopening they mentioned last week -- it's "not complete," they said -- but with vaccinations opening this week for those under 35 and then under 30, the province is about to turn a corner.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said all indications so far are that they're going to do just that, with half of those aged 30 to 34 making their appointments within a day of their slots opening.
Hours after the press conference, a day ahead of schedule, slots opened up to the next group, those between 25 and 29.
Dubé said he has a lot of empathy for young people and what they've experienced this year.
"At the end of the day... I trust them, because I have a young person at home. He tells me that they're frustrated and they can't wait to see their friends," he said.
"We kind of left them aside since the beginning -- we asked them to make sacrifices," the minister added.
"They're the ones who had jobs at restaurants and part-time jobs. They're the ones who had to make sacrifices for the elderly because we asked them to cut their social contacts with our grandparents, but... we didn't give them much."
Now, however, Dubé said, "we have the opportunity to put the ball in their court, and that's why I really wanted there to be a priority this week to do things correctly."
He said he just gave an interview to a magazine for young readers and hinted that the province is also preparing some new perks at vaccine centres, including some kind of musical program.
Dubé also said it seems more confirmed now that teenagers will have access to vaccines in June, as the province first said last week.
KEEPING SCHOOLS OPEN REMAINS TOP GOAL: LEGAULT
When it comes to younger kids, Premier Francois Legault said the province has reached a third-wave milestone: nearly all its schools will be open as of next week.
"I challenge anyone to find, in North America, a place where they kept the schools open like we did," he said. "Since the beginning of the pandemic, 14 months ago, for us it was always a true priority."
He also told Quebecers they're at the beginning of a "gradual return to normalcy," starting with, he hopes, keeping schools open for the rest of the school year.
He asked people to stay "prudent until the 24th of June, till the end of classes -- it's important that our students stay in school."
The province is closing a bruising round of contract talks with Quebec teachers. Legault also said he wanted to send a "thank you to the teachers for the administrators... to the staff and schools who have allowed us to keep our children in school.
"It's important for their learning, it's important for their social lives, for their mental health. So I'm very pleased that we are in this situation," he said.
EMERGENCY RULES TO END IN OUTAOUAIS
Quebec is "headed in the right direction" in general, Legault said, announcing some specific easing of rules in the next week, including some that will reopen the schools currently closed.
The best news came for one region that's been hard-hit for more than a month.
"In the Outaouais, we have truly taken control of the situation," Legault said.
As of next week, the Outaouais will no longer be in an emergency-measures zone. Non-essential businesses will be able to reopen and the curfew will go back to 9:30, while high school students will go back to their pre-emergency schedule, which for some involves rotating in-person classes.
But as a special note to Outaouais residents, Legault asked them to be very vigilant about avoiding visits to Ontario except when urgent and respecting the border closure.
"Of course, the situation is more serious in Ontario, so we're asking police officers to do some monitoring on an ongoing basis."
Overall in Quebec, cases and hospitalizations both continue to trend downwards, and the average positivity rate went from 2.8 to 2.6 per cent in on the last week, he said.
Another region can't have its rules eased quite yet: the Bas-Saint-Laurent, with the exception of Rimouski, said Legault.
This is a developing story that will be updated.