MONTREAL — Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday his government's goal is for all adult Quebecers who want a COVID-19 vaccine to get at least one dose by Quebec's Fete nationale on June 24.
The announcement came as the premier pushed back the overnight curfew in Montreal and its surrounding regions to 9:30 p.m. from 8 p.m., starting Wednesday.
But the premier warned that despite the good news about vaccinations, this summer may not be a return to normal.
"It's good news, but we don't know how good," Legault told reporters, before warning about the risk of fast-spreading novel coronavirus variants.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's public health director, said it's too early to say what the situation in the province will look like by June. "I cannot actually project it and say festivals are going to be open like before, I think it's too soon," he said.
"And don't forget that if we want to maintain long-term immunity, there's going to be a need for second doses."
For three less populated regions, including the Gaspe peninsula, the curfew will be entirely lifted as they move to the "yellow" pandemic-alert level, Legault said.
"It gives us an idea of where we are going," Legault said about the rest of the province, where residents must still be inside by 9:30 p.m.
Asked what justifies the continued curfew, the premier replied: "The variants."
Legault said by the end of April, the dominant strain of the novel coronavirus in the province will be the more contagious mutation first identified in the United Kingdom. "We need to stay very prudent," he said.
Still, Arruda admitted the government doesn't have data proving the curfew is responsible for the stabilization in the number of cases seen in Quebec. Instead, he said, its results can be seen by deduction and from studies analyzing people's behaviour.
Arruda said the curfew has been successful at reducing contacts between people because it's more difficult to gather when residents need to be home by a certain time.
The premier said early analysis of the school break during the first week of March indicates a slight rise in new COVID-19 cases but not the deluge that health authorities had feared.
"I want to thank Quebecers," Legault said. "We really did have a worry about the effects of March break." But fears over more contagious variants are leading officials to monitor the province's biggest cities closely.
The premier said the province's vaccination campaign will allow all Quebecers aged 65 and over to be vaccinated with one dose by mid-April. "It's big news and that changes the portrait completely," Legault said. "It's people over 65 who are most vulnerable."
Health Minister Christian Dube told reporters he has an appointment to be vaccinated in Montreal and will receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Dube, Legault and Arruda all stressed the safety of that vaccine, despite some European countries pausing its use as regulators review safety data following isolated reports of blood clots among recipients.
Legault, 63, said he's still waiting his turn.
"Since the beginning, we asked ourselves, should we be vaccinated in order to be a model and convince more Quebecers to be vaccinated?" Legault said. "It's a good argument, it's a positive argument.
"But in Quebec, people, they don't like that we use some power or the position we have to get something before the other ones."
Earlier Tuesday, Quebec reported 561 new COVID-19 infections and eight more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including three that occurred in the past 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by 20, to 533, and 91 people were in intensive care, a drop of five. Quebec has 6,753 active reported COVID-19 cases.
The province said it administered 28,861 vaccine doses Monday, for a total of 774,600, representing slightly more than nine per cent of the population.
Officials reported 179 more confirmed cases of novel coronavirus variants Tuesday, mainly involving the B.1.1.7 mutation first detected in the United Kingdom. Quebec has reported a total of 298,747 cases and 10,558 deaths linked to the virus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press