Although many expected the announcement to come at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Premier Francois Legault took to Facebook on Wednesday night to confirm that Quebec’s schoolchildren will be going back to class on Monday, as planned.
“Good news!” The premier wrote, “The public health department is in favor of opening primary and secondary schools next Monday.”
Speaking on Thursday afternoon alongside his Health and Education ministers and the interim director of Public Health, Legault said that the decision was made in light of the fact that the province is thought to have reached a peak of infections in this wave and the recognized challenges of large-scale distance learning.
“Distance learning is not the same,” the premier said. “It is very important for our children to rejoin their friends and their teachers and get back to class.”
Aside from the return to classes, Legault also announced an end to the 10 p.m. curfew as of Jan. 17, and the reopening of stores on Sunday as of Jan. 23. The vaccine passport will also be extended to include stores of 1,500 square metres or more, except for grocery stores and pharmacies.
Despite the anticipated peak of hospitalizations expected in the coming days, Legault repeated the fact that this coming weekend is expected to be the hardest period for the healthcare system since the start of the pandemic. In response to that, he said that the government has negotiated $500 million in new incentives and programs aimed at ensuring that there is enough staff to respond to the need.
Finally, speaking of the “health contribution” idea he floated earlier this week, the premier said that it will be implemented by means of a bill when the National Assembly returns in February, to allow a debate to take place as requested by the opposition parties. He argued that despite the concerns that have been raised about impacts on vulnerable populations, the intention of the fee is not to hurt people but to establish a consequence for those who choose not to get the shot.
The Province of Quebec reported 2,994 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 on Thursday, verifying the forecast from last week that there would be 3,000 hospitalizations by mid-January. The number of people in Intensive care was lower than anticipated last week, however, at 272. Both of these figures represent an increase over the previous day, with 443 people having been newly admitted to hospital and 44 newly admitted to the ICU.
There were 45 new deaths recorded, for an overall total of 12,125.
There were 166 people in hospital in the Eastern Townships on Thursday due to the virus, an overall decrease of three from Wednesday. The number of people in intensive care, meanwhile, increased by one to 27.