New COVID rules in effect for some provinces, Quebec calls situation 'critical'

·4 min read

Tougher public health restrictions came into effect Monday in many parts of Canada as some regions continue to deal with concerning COVID-19 case counts and rising hospitalizations.

In Quebec, the province announced 4,571 COVID-19 infections — a new single day record. The province said there were 21 more people in hospital, bringing the total hospitalizations to 397.

Calling the situation "critical," Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube announced new restrictions.

Bars, movie theatres and entertainment venues were to close as of 5 p.m., while restaurants must operate at reduced capacity and close at 10 p.m.

"With the increase of cases and hospitalizations, we must put in place new measures," Dube said during a virtual news conference.

Elementary and high schools will be closed as of Tuesday, with in-person learning scheduled to resume on Jan. 10.

The new measures came hours after previously announced measures took effect. Those included reducing capacity by half in bars, restaurants, retail stores, places of worship and entertainment venues.

New capacity restrictions are also in place in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.

B.C. has limited capacity to 50 per cent at venues that hold more than 1,000 people, including those that hold sporting events, theatre performances and music concerts. Newfoundland and Labrador has limited bars to 50 per cent capacity and restaurants to 75 per cent with physical distancing.

Ontario implemented its new public health orders Sunday, which see restaurants, retailers, gyms and other indoor settings operating at 50 per cent capacity.

While theatres are allowed to keep their doors open, some production companies in Ontario cancelled shows to contend with the rise in cases.

In Ottawa, plans to bring the acclaimed "Hamilton" musical to the National Arts Centre's Southam Hall next month have been postponed until July.

And plans to première the eagerly anticipated Tom Stoppard play "Leopoldstadt" in North America in early 2022 were cancelled.

Theatre producer David Mirvish issued a statement saying the "sudden arrival" of the variant made it impossible to move forward. "I'm not giving up on 'Leopoldstadt.' I'm determined to present this magnificent play in Toronto sometime in the future when it is safe to do so," he said.

The implementation of capacity limits had some small business owners lamenting how the "most wonderful time of year" has become a nightmare for a sector still struggling to recover from previous waves of the pandemic.

"It was really, really, really depressing," said Brendan Doherty, an owner of the Old Triangle Irish alehouses across the Maritimes.

"There's been a few dark moments through the pandemic, and that one really felt like one of the darker, even though we've been dealing with this for two years."

Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the organization surveyed 4,514 small business owners last month before Omicron reached its peak and found 36 per cent were back to normal sales.

"Any little glimmer of hope that many businesses saw at the end of this two-year tunnel are quickly being extinguished," Kelly said.

Meanwhile, Ontario and Quebec both saw people scrambling to get COVID-19 booster vaccine appointments and rapid tests.

Pharmacies in Montreal had long lineups as the province provided free rapid tests to residents, but many people walked away empty handed.

Appointments for booster shots were also snapped up in Ontario as millions of residents became eligible for third doses.

Clement Law in Ottawa said he logged onto the provincial website shortly before bookings were supposed to open and was placed in a virtual lineup that lasted more than an hour. When he got access to the booking system, Law said there were no appointments available in his area.

"I put in my address to find the closest one and nothing shows up under 25 kilometres, nothing under 50, nothing under 100," he said.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott's office said more than 125,000 third-dose appointments had been booked through the province's online portal as of 10 a.m., but that number doesn't include shots booked through pharmacies, local public health units and other channels.

"We are pleased to see so many people embrace the opportunity to ensure strong protection against the Omicron variant," said spokeswoman Alexandra Hilkene.

Hilkene added public health units are "actively working to add appointments to the booking system" as the province ramps up vaccination capacity.

The province reported 3,784 new daily infections and no additional deaths from the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said B.C. has limited capacity for bars and restaurants at 50 per cent.

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