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Holiday gatherings limited with return of COVID-19 measures amid rising cases

With cases of COVID-19 continue rising at an alarming rate across the province, Premier François Legault has reintroduced a number of public health measures in the hope of slowing the virus ahead of an expected surge in cases as the more contagious Omicron variant starts to spread.

“We have to be able to reduce our contacts by fifty per cent over the coming weeks,” said a concerned François Legault, who earlier in the day had referred to the situation in Quebec as critical.

During a press conference Thursday evening, Legault said the coming weeks would not be easy, especially considering all Quebecers had been looking forward to more relaxed holiday gatherings with family. “In this fight that we are waging, it’s not enough to just get vaccinated,” he said, before introducing a new series of government-imposed measures.

Private gatherings, including those taking place over the holidays, are now restricted to 10 individuals from as many as three residences. Private outdoor gatherings may include up to 20 individuals.

As of Monday, the capacity for all businesses will be reduced by fifty percent according to surface area, including restaurants, bars and taverns, cinemas, indoor events, and shows. Office parties, dancing and karaoke will no longer be allowed, and people will be required to remain seated. Capacity limits have also been imposed on gyms, spas, and ski chalets. Churches will also have to limit the number of worshippers by 50 per cent, to a maximum of 250 people. The vaccine passport will also now be required for individuals to attend religious services.

As of December 20, students at all levels will required to wear a mask at all times. All competitive sports at the secondary level have been put on hold. Legault also announced that while elementary students will be returning to school following the holidays according to their regular school calendar, secondary students, as well as those attending CEGEP, university, adult or professional programs will have their return date to full-time in-person classes delayed to January 10. As a result, Chateauguay Valley Regional High School will be closed to students on January 5 and 6 in order to prepare for a return to online learning on January 7.

Vaccination dates bumped up

Legault said experts have warned that Quebecers should expect to see a significant number of cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks. By Friday however, cases had already climbed to the highest number since the start of the pandemic, jumping by over 1,000 from Thursday to 3,768.

According to Legault, as well as public health director Horacio Arruda, vaccination remains the best weapon against the virus. “If we did not have the vaccine, our hospitals would be completely overrun,” said Arruda, who struck down questions on the effectiveness of the vaccines.

The government also explained that experts had now reduced the amount of time recommended between a second and third dose, so they would be moving up the vaccination calendar to allow those aged 65 and older to reserve an appointment as of Monday while those 60 and older would be able to register on December 27.

Legault noted that it was especially important to respect the order of priority when it comes to the vaccine to ensure healthcare workers, as well as the more vulnerable are better protected. Apointments for first and second doses, however, can be booked at any time.

According to the Direction de Santé Publique de la Montérégie, at least 35.5 per cent of children between the ages of 5 and 11 have received a first dose of the pediatric vaccine in the Haut-Saint-Laurent. The overall vaccination rate in the Haut-Saint-Laurent remains the lowest in the Montérégie with 73.2 per cent of the population considered to be adequately vaccinated.

Cases rising locally as well

The Valley has not been excluded from those regions seeing a rapid increase in cases. According to the Institute National de Santé Publique (INSPQ), there were 40 actives cases in the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network as of December 17. Cases are rising in surrounding regions as well. The Suroît LHN is reporting 206 cases, while the Vaudreuil-Soulanges LHN now has 240 cases, and the Jardins-Roussillon at least 454 cases, with at least 54 of those from within the MRC des Jardins-de-Napierville.

The (DSPM) is reporting at least 119 outbreaks in the region, including 55 in school environments and 37 in workplaces. As of December 16, cases had been confirmed in several local schools, including École Notre-Dame and Heritage Elementary School in Huntingdon, the Chateauguay Valley Career Education Centre in Ormstown, Gault Institute in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, as well as Saint-Willibrord Elementary School, Howard S. Billings High School, and the NOVA Career Centre in Chateauguay.

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