Quebec mulls easing restrictions in some regions as of Feb. 8 as coronavirus cases dip

Quebec is considering easing some of its lockdown measures for certain regions that aren’t as hard hit by the novel coronavirus crisis starting in February.

Premier François Legault said Tuesday the restrictions in place are helping to bring down the number of new COVID-19 cases, but that hospitalizations, despite beginning to dip, remain high — especially in Montreal.

When asked if some rules could be eased in the city, Legault said it was “tough to answer.” Last week, local public health authorities warned pressure remains on Montreal’s hospital network.

“The situation is very different in Montreal than what we’re living in the rest of Quebec,” Legault told reporters, adding that he will make an announcement next week.

Much of the province has been on some form of lockdown since October. The rules currently in place until Feb. 8 include a nightly curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in a bid to limit the transmission of the virus. Quebec is the only province to implement such a measure during the pandemic.

Earlier this week, mayors in less populated parts of Quebec — including Rimouski and Sept-Îles — appealed to the provincial government. They argue the restrictions are unjustified in their areas, where COVID-19 indicators are significantly lower than in Montreal and Quebec City.

READ MORE: Montreal ‘still far from a comfortable situation’ even as COVID-19 cases drop, public health says

If Quebec does lift some rules, however, public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda warned that it will be done gradually.

“We can’t think in the next weeks, ‘That’s it, we’ll go back to normal,’” he said. “That’s the most dangerous thing that threatens us.”

The possibility of loosening some measures comes as Quebec reported 1,166 new cases and 57 additional deaths linked to the virus Tuesday.

Health authorities say four of those deaths occurred in the past 24 hours, while the others stem from earlier this month and have been retroactively added to the growing tally.

In the last few weeks, the average number of new cases in the province has gone down, from an average of about 2,500 a day to about 1,500, according to Legault.

The caseload of the province, which has been a hotspot for the virus, has now reached 256,002. Meanwhile, recoveries stand at 230,803.

The health crisis has led to the deaths of 9,577 Quebecers to date, though a death previously linked to the virus has been removed from the total following an investigation. The province’s fatalities account for nearly half of Canada’s deaths attributable to COVID-19.

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Coronavirus: Quebec’s average number of COVID-19 cases dropping, says premier

The number of hospitalizations related to the pandemic rose Tuesday. There are 1,324 patients in hospital, an increase of three from the previous day. Of those patients, there are 217 in intensive care units, which remains unchanged.

Quebec’s latest data shows 19,281 tests were given Sunday. To date, more than 5.6 million tests have been administered.

Officials say they administered 5,927 doses of vaccine Monday and say they have used all but 13,221 of the doses received thus far. The vaccination campaign has slowed, however, due to a temporary delay in shipments of the Pfizer vaccine to Canada.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said Tuesday that the province has already reached its readjusted goal of administering 225,000 vaccines by Feb. 8.

Legault urges urgent action on travel

Citing new variants of the virus, Legault said he doesn’t understand why the federal government hasn’t yet implemented additional restrictions for international travel.

Quebec has been demanding a ban on international flights or for travelers to have to stay in a quarantine hotel at their own expense.

“I’m asking Mr. Trudeau again to act rapidly,” Legault said.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that new restrictions on travel are coming and he is urging Canadians to cancel all travel plans they may have.

Manitoba, for its part, issued a two-week isolation order for travel in the country and called on Ottawa to close the borders.

Read more: McGill temporarily removes some students from residence for allegedly flouting COVID-19 rules

With files from The Canadian Press

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