By Gordon Lambie
Local Journalism Initiative
On Tuesday afternoon Quebec’s Health Minister, Christian Dubé, announced a series of changes to the province’s COVID-19 restrictions that will come into effect on Nov. 15, including permission to dance and sing under certain circumstances and a plan to allow students in high schools to go mask-free in classrooms.
“We want to restart the vast majority of activities,” Dubé said. “We know it is good for morale, but we will be following what happens closely.”
The majority of the changes Dubé presented relate to recreational activities, including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and winter sports activities. He highlighted the return of dancing and karaoke provided that participants are either masked or separated from others by a barrier.
Businesses that have been keeping a registry of visitors will no longer be required to do so, and people at public gatherings like conferences or concerts will be allowed to move about freely without having to remain in an assigned spot or seat.
Dubé said that “open-access outdoor winter sports” like hockey, sliding, and cross-country skiing will not require the vaccine passport, but participants must maintain a distance of at least one metre from one another and wear a mask if indoors. Activities that rely on lift systems, however, such as downhill ski hills, will be required to use the vaccine passport system and riders of the lifts will be required to wear a face covering.
Tuesday’s announcement also removes the requirement to remain two metres apart in gyms unless the people in question are not wearing masks.
The change to High School masking rules was made, according to provincial Public Health Director Horacio Arruda, in light of the fact that the vaccination rate among youths 12-17 is considered quite high and there are very few outbreaks being recorded in high-school settings. As of the 15, students will be allowed to take off their masks in class but will still need to wear them in common areas and on transportation.
Dubé also announced that the work from home recommendation is being removed, opening the door for those businesses that have been functioning primarily at a distance to bring employees back in part or in full.
As was the case with similar announcements in the past, the health minister said that all changes are provisional based on the situation in the province’s hospitals. He noted, for example, that the Nov. 15 timeline might be impacted if the changes that came into force in restaurants and bars on Monday prove to have a negative impact. Also, given the large number of changes planned for the 15, the health minister encouraged the public to consult Quebec.ca for further clarification on what will and will not be allowed.
During the same press conference Daniel Paré, the director of Quebec’ vaccination campaign, said that as much as possible is being done to prepare for the vaccination of 5 to 11-year-olds in the province prior to their approval by Health Canada.
“My objective is to have one dose for all our children before Christmas,” he said, sharing that preparations are being made with school boards and school service centres and explaining that the necessary structures within the ClicSante online booking system have all been prepared for the moment when the process is given approval to go ahead. While the doses themselves are not yet in the province, Paré said that 652,000 doses have been reserved with suppliers to try to make the process as efficient as possible.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States gave its approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be given to children aged 5-11 on October 29 which, while not an immediate green-light to begin in that country, was widely recognized as a major milestone on the road to an active campaign.
The Province of Quebec reported 490 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of people infected to 426,947 with 4,497 active cases.
There were six new deaths recorded, for a total of 11,502 since the start of the pandemic, and a total of 250 hospitalizations; an increase of six compared to the previous day. Of that 250, 71 people were in intensive care; an increase of four compared to the previous day.
In the Eastern Townships 185 new cases were added since last Friday’s report and the CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS reported 370 active cases across the region. The distribution of those cases was as follows: 18 in la Pommeraie, 64 in Haute Yamaska, 15 in Memphremagog, 7 in the Coaticook area, 126 in Sherbrooke, 21 in the Val Saint-François, 14 in Des Sources, 79 in the Haut-Saint-François, 24 in Granit, and two not assigned to a particular region.
Although the cluster in the Des Sources region has now stabilized, the Haut-Saint-François region now has the highest rate of infection in relation to its population of any other part of the Townships.
The CIUSSS recorded two new deaths, at the Saint-Vincent long term care facility in Sherbrooke, bringing the regional total to 374, but the number of hospitalizations decreased to 10 with only one in intensive care.
Vaccination in the Townships has reached 86.6 per cent for one dose and 84.4 per cent for a second dose among those 12 and up, just slightly lower than the provincial rates of 90 per cent for a first dose and 87 for a second.