The Gleaner
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Most public health restrictions to end by mid-March

Quebec’s interim director of public health announced during a press conference on Wednesday that up to 2.5 million Quebecers have been infected with the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus since December.

Luc Boileau said that provincial health officials relied on “some direct and some indirect” indicators in concluding that up to 25 per cent of the population has recently been infected. “If we add those who have been infected in the previous four waves, we surely exceed 40 per cent,” he added, before suggesting this number, in combination with the 4 million Quebecers who have received a booster shot, makes now the optimal time to start relaxing restrictions.

On Tuesday, Premier François Legault announced a gradual reopening plan for the province that will see most public health-imposed restrictions lifted by March 14. He cited the constant drop in hospitalizations as the main factor in allowing Quebecers to increase their contacts, while cautioning that any easing of restrictions could see numbers climb upwards again. “We are taking a calculated risk,” he admitted.

As of Feb. 12, all limits on household gatherings will be lifted, however public health authorities are recommending people keep to a maximum of ten individuals or members of three households. This recommendation will also apply to restaurants, which will be able to seat ten people or three households per table, while still at 50 per cent capacity.

“We will have to learn to evaluate our own risk,” said Legault, suggesting Quebecers would now be responsible for assessing their own comfort level when it comes to gatherings.

As previously announced, spas and gyms may reopen at half capacity, and sports and recreational activities or classes for adults may restart on Feb. 14, in groups of 25 or less. Hockey and other sports games may also be played.

As of Feb. 21, all capacity limits on retails stores and malls will be lifted. Churches will be able to reopen at 50 per cent, while requiring vaccine passports. Gatherings in rented halls will be limited to 50 people, while venues may open at 50 per cent capacity.

By Feb. 28, sports competitions and tournaments may resume without limits on participants. Capacity limits will also be lifted for cinemas, indoor events, and performance spaces, as well as meetings and assemblies, and places of worship. Bars, taverns and casinos will be able to reopen at 50 per cent capacity. Working from home will no longer be mandatory for those who are able. Public health authorities are however recommending a hybrid return to work.

As of March 14, restaurants and bars may reopen at full capacity, with dancing and karaoke permitted. All capacity limits in public spaces will be lifted. Spas and gyms will also be able to resume their activities at full capacity.

Legault reiterated the importance of learning to live with the virus. “The best way to do so is to get all three doses,” he said. Measures such as the wearing of masks and the vaccine passport will remain in place, at least for the time being.

Local statistics

In the 24 hours preceding February 9, at least 132 people tested positive in the Haut-Saint-Laurent Local Health Network (LHN), while 310 positive results were recorded in the Beauharnois-Salaberry LHN, 533 in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges LHN, and 716 in the Jardins-Roussillon LHN. The Haut-Saint-Laurent continues to have the highest rate of infection in the Montérégie region at 526.8 per 100,000 individuals. These statistics are an underrepresentation of the virus’s spread, however, as the numbers reflect only those eligible for PCR testing according to the government’s limited screening strategy.

According to the Direction de Santé Publique de la Montérégie, hospitalizations in the region have been falling over the last three weeks. There are currently seven individuals hospitalized at the Barrie Memorial Hospital, while 39 people are being treated at the Suroît Hospital in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield including one individual in the intensive care unit (ICU). There are 36 patients with COVID-19 being treated at the Anna Laberge Hospital in Chateauguay, including three in the ICU.

Just under 75 per cent of the population in the Haut-Saint-Laurent has received two doses of the vaccine, while just over 42 per cent of people have consented to a booster shot. Just over 60 percent of children aged 5 to 11 have had one dose. Of those, just under 23 per cent have received a second dose.

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