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 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 premier held a meeting with opposition leaders Tuesday afternoon to brief them about the new measures which are expected to be unveiled during a news conference on Wednesday.
According to Radio-Canada, they will include at least three more weeks of lockdown, mandatory working from home for anyone in a position to do so, as well as one more week of online learning for elementary students and two more weeks for high school students.
Daycares, however, will remain open, Radio-Canada reported.
Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and an assistant professor at McGill University, said a curfew would communicate how important it is that people limit their face-to-face contacts.
Another goal would be to reduce instances of people gathering in private homes by preventing them from travelling.
He said very few studies dive into the efficacy of curfews, and the ones that do don’t provide convincing evidence that there is great benefit.
“At the same time, given the dire situation that we’re in, because of the increasing amounts of new cases and all of the consequent effects of those, you can make the argument that we can’t really afford to wait for these kinds of studies to be done,” he said.
“The time to act is … well, the time to act was a month ago, but we’re better off doing this now rather than waiting.”
Cases soared over holidays
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. Most of Quebec’s elementary and high schools have been closed since Dec. 17. These closures were originally set to end next Monday.
But 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.”
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Heidi Yetman, who represents 8,000 members with the Quebec provincial association of teachers, 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.”
She says the province could have done a better job of containing the spread by imposing stricter public health rules in schools last fall.
Impact on manufacturing sector
Quebec’s public health research institute issues weekly reports on outbreaks in workplace settings.
According to its most recent report, for the week ending Dec. 19, the manufacturing sector had the most workplace outbreaks, 187 out of the province’s 699, followed closely by retail, which accounted for 151, and then construction with 60.
Véronique Proulx, the CEO of the Quebec manufacturers and exporters association, said since the beginning of the pandemic that manufacturers have been going above and beyond what was being asked of them in terms of health and safety measures.
The group wants to sit down with public health officials and the government to determine whether additional measures could be put in place instead of resorting to a shut down.
Proulx said some employers say their employees are being infected outside the workplace and bringing COVID-19 to work, so shutting things down but allowing manufacturers to operate would help cut down the number of cases in the sector as well as benefit the economy.
“We’re very sensitive to the situation and the number of cases, but we think there could be other steps put in place before [resorting] to such drastic measures.”
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