During a press conference Thursday, Quebec’s interim director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, confirmed that hospitalizations across the province seem to be on the decline. He noted that while this is a good sign, it is too early to say the Omicron wave is receding. Boileau said the province would go ahead with the gradual lifting of strict public health restrictions as of January 31, as announced by Premier François Legault earlier in the week. Restaurants, schools and sports associations received good news, however the government stopped short of offering a timeline for reopening beyond the next two weeks. As of Monday, January 31, private gatherings in homes will be allowed between up to four people from different residences or two family bubbles. The same guidelines will apply in restaurants, which will be able to reopen dining rooms at half capacity. Bars must remain closed. All extra-curricular activities and sports outside of school may resume as of Monday, but only for those 18 and under. Legault said he was particularly sensitive to the importance of sports, especially for young people, before insisting that activities would have to be capped at 25 participants with no competitions or tournaments. Gyms and spas were not included in the first phase of businesses able to reopen. More visitors will also be allowed access to loved ones in long-term care homes. Up to two caregivers may visit per day for those in CHSLDs and four caregivers may visit those in private residences. A second deconfinement phase was announced starting on February 7, when cinemas, theatres and performance venues may reopen at half capacity. Churches and places of worship will also be able to open at half capacity to a maximum of 250 individuals. Boileau suggested the government will move to deconfine different sectors on a weekly basis, but he declined to release any information for the week of February 14. He acknowledged that people would prefer a longer timeline, but he said, much depends on a balance between hospitalizations and the vaccination rate. “We can’t move quickly, we still have to manage risk,” he said. The vaccine passport will be required for all activities set to re-open, including extracurricular activities for students over the age of 13, church services, all shows and restaurant dining rooms. The vaccine passport mandate has also now been extended to big box type stores with a surface area larger than 1,500 square metres (excluding supermarkets and pharmacies), as well as the SAQ and the SQDC. Reporting rapid test results The Quebec government has launched a platform where Quebecers can self-report the results of COVID-19 rapid tests. The platform was created in response to the impact of limited PCR testing on the overall case counts reported by the government. It is assumed that the numbers being released daily under-represent the actual spread of the virus. The government is asking all those who have used a rapid test on themselves or their children to report the results, whether the result was negative or positive. The data will be used for statistical purposes only and reporting a positive result will not be registered to an individual’s vaccine passport. The portal can be accessed online at: https://covid19.quebec.ca/autodeclaration/en/accueil Local outbreaks and statistics According to the government list of CHSLD and private long-term care residences reporting at least one case of COVID-19, the outbreak at the Centre d’Hébergement du Comté de Huntingdon (Huntingdon Residential and Long-term Care Centre) has now spread to the second floor. As of January 26, at least 17 residents on the first floor had been diagnosed as positive, while another 9 residents on the second floor tested positive as well for the virus. Several private long-term care residences in the Haut-Saint-Laurent region are managing significant outbreaks, including the Résidence Riviera in Huntingdon where 15 residents have now been diagnosed with COVID-19. 15 residents at the Résidence La Belle Rose in Saint-Chrysostome have also tested positive, while three out of seven residents at the Résidence Chez Karen in Huntingdon have been diagnosed. There are now only two active cases among the residents at the Résidence Ormstown, down from at least 20 residents earlier in the week. As of January 27, the Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec has recorded 165 new positive cases from PCR tests in the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network (LHN). There were 421 new cases reported in the Suroît LHN, an additional 690 in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges LHN, and 969 cases in the Jardins-Roussillon LHN. Within the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent, just under 75 per cent of the eligible population has received two doses of the vaccine. Just over 30 per cent are now adequately vaccinated with two doses and a booster, including 72 per cent of the population above the age of 70. Around 60 per cent of eligible children under the age of 12 have been vaccinated once against the virus. Parents can now schedule a second dose for their children, while appointments can be made for all eligible age groups for a first, second or booster shot at any time through the clicsante.ca portal.