MONTREAL — The Quebec government announced Tuesday it will ramp up its reopening plan, moving all of the province out of the orange pandemic-alert level by next week and allowing high school proms for graduating students next month.
Premier François Legault told reporters that outdoor proms, without masks or distancing, will be permitted as of July 8, with a maximum of 250 people.
"I know how important it is for young people," Legault said in Quebec City, noting that most teens will have received a first dose of vaccine in the coming weeks, allowing authorities to make a special dispensation for students. A week ago the province had dismissed the idea of proms as too risky.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's health director, said the COVID-19 situation has improved and the enthusiastic response of youth to vaccination helped authorities changed their minds.
"The proms won't happen for a while, which will allow for the vaccine to take effect," Arruda said. Graduation ceremonies will be permitted indoors, either at schools or rented halls, with families present and distancing and other measures in place.
Meanwhile, authorities say bar patios will reopen as of Friday, and by Monday, all regions of the province should see their pandemic-alert levels at either yellow or green, meaning bars across the province will be able to have patrons indoors again.
Legault said several regions under the highest current restrictions — including Montreal, Quebec City, Laval, Montérégie to the south of Montreal, the Laurentians, Lanaudière, Estrie, Outaouais and Bas-Saint-Laurent — will move to yellow, permitting indoor gatherings among two households and the resumption of outdoor team sports.
Legault said the only question mark is Chaudière-Appalaches, south of Quebec City, which has the highest rate of cases in the province. Authorities will make a determination later in the week whether it needs to remain orange. "For now, the region is expected to turn yellow on Monday," Legault said.
As of Tuesday, students were allowed to remove their masks inside classrooms because of the hot spring weather and the steady drop in the number of COVID-19 cases in the province. The Health Department announced late Monday that the obligation for students to wear masks would be ended Tuesday in orange zones. Mask wearing is not required in classrooms in yellow and green zones.
The government has said it intends to have students return to school in the fall without requiring that they wear masks or stay in classroom bubbles. Students should also be able to attend field trips and eat lunch together in common areas.
On Tuesday, Quebec reported 149 new COVID-19 cases and four more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, none of which occurred in the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by two, to 263, and 60 people were in intensive care, an increase of two.
The province said 64,973 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered Monday, for a total of 6,220,734; about 66.4 per cent of eligible Quebecers have received a first dose.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province has managed to reduce the number of people between 18 and 40 who haven't received their first dose to 195,000, down from 220,000 last week.
"We manage to convince about 5,000 a day, and, if we go at this speed, we will have reached 75 per cent in all categories — even if it's a little longer than we thought — by the end of June, beginning of July," Dubé said.
Quebec's next challenge is to get everyone a second dose by the end of August, Legault added.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said there were 150 new cases reported today, but the information has since been revised by the Health Department.