With the number of daily COVID-19 cases seemingly spiralling out of control during the province’s holiday shutdown, the Quebec government is now considering imposing even harsher restrictions.
The province is considering keeping schools closed for an extra week or two, while also shutting down non-essential activities in the manufacturing and construction sectors, sources tell Radio-Canada.
The province is also mulling over the idea of imposing a curfew, a recommendation made by Quebec Public Health, according to Radio-Canada. If imposed, it would be Quebec’s first curfew since the start of the pandemic.
“That is an extremely restrictive measure,” Benoit Barbeau, a virologist in the department of biological sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal, told CBC Montreal’s Daybreak.
“The government definitely has to consider how the population will accept such measures. It’s obviously to make sure there is not too much ongoing activity after these [curfew] hours.”
The Legault government was scheduled to provide an update at 5 p.m. today, but the news conference was postponed until tomorrow because the government needed more time to go over its options, sources tell Radio-Canada.
Cases soared over holidays
Throughout this pandemic, the premier has used late-afternoon news conferences to announce major changes, such as new lockdown rules and the cancellation of Christmas gatherings.
As of Christmas day, the province put in place its strictest lockdown measures since last spring, with only businesses selling essential goods allowed to stay open. Quebec’s elementary and high schools have been closed since Dec. 17. These closures were originally set to end next Monday.
The number of coronavirus cases continued to soar during the holidays. The province has registered at least 2,800 cases in a single day three times since last Wednesday. There are 242 more people in hospital due to the virus compared to New Year’s Day.
“We have to recognize that governments don’t have tools other than confinement,” said André-Pierre Contandriopoulos, a professor emeritus at Université de Montréal’s school of public health, during an interview with Radio-Canada.
“We know that the cost in terms of mental health is enormous, but we don’t have a choice.”
Some students still trying to recover from first shutdown
Heidi Yetman, who represents 8,000 members with the Quebec provincial association of teachers, says the province bears much of the responsibility for the virus’s growing spread.
Yetman says the province could have done a better job of containing the spread by imposing stricter public health rules in schools last fall.
Classes reopened last August with students in Grade 5 and up only needing to wear a mask on school grounds and in buses, but not while seated in classrooms.
As cases spiked, and classes around the province started shutting down due to outbreaks, high school students were required to wear masks even when seated, and students in Grade 9 and up were asked to attend school one out of every two days.
“It’s sad to see that this is what it’s become,” said Yetman. “Especially for the students who are very young, students that are in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. They’re very, very young. It’s very difficult for them to be sitting in front of a computer learning online.”
She says many students are still trying to make up for time lost during the pandemic’s first shutdown.
“For some students, it’s almost as if they didn’t go to school at all last year,” Yetman said. “Students are behind, and this pandemic will affect students for years to come.”