Quebec residents must once more be in their homes by 10 p.m. or risk fines up to $6,000 for violating the province’s curfew, which came into effect December 31, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced last week.
It’s the second consecutive January with a curfew for Quebec residents – a curfew Legault insists will save lives and curb the propagation of the COVID-19 virus and its highly contagious omicron variant.
The premier has drawn criticism for his change of heart on holiday gatherings. On December 15, Legault announced Quebecers could host up to 20 people in their home for Christmas, despite growing evidence that Quebec hospitals were being overrun by COVID-19 patients. Then, just a few days later, the premier walked back his remarks, closed gyms, bars and cinemas, banned sit-down dining in restaurants, indoor sports and forced Quebec students back into online learning until January 17 at the earliest.
In a new move aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus and its omicron variant, Legault also ordered all non-essential businesses – including grocery stores – closed on Sundays across the province.
The government also ordered all places of worship closed until further notice and banned gatherings of more than one family bubble. Single people with children are allowed to join another family bubble.
The province reported 15,293 positive COVID-19 cases Tuesday morning. The virus and its complications are responsible for 11,760 deaths in the province since the pandemic hit in March 2020.
"I know we're all tired, but it's my responsibility to protect (Quebecers)," said Legault. "(Experts) agree that, in the coming weeks, there is a risk that the number of hospitalizations will exceed our capacity, which would eventually lead us to no longer being able to treat everyone."
Health minister Christian Dube agreed, saying "no one here is happy about this," said Dube. "But is it the right thing to do under the circumstances? We are convinced that it is."
Not all experts agree the curfew – the only one of its kind in Canada – is quite as effective as the premier and his colleagues seem to think.
A group of Quebec academics, ranging from sociologists to legal experts, authored an open letter to the government questioning the efficacy of a curfew in preventing spread of the virus.
“Will the government continue to pull Quebec apart from the rest of Canada every winter by prohibiting the free circulation of people when it gets dark?” the letter reads. The authors of the letter argue that, based on data from 2020 and 2021, last year’s curfew did not play a significant role in slowing the spread of the virus.
In 2021, the provincial government issued a curfew that began in January — during the peak of the second wave — and ended May 28. During that time, the overall number of daily COVID-19 cases dropped considerably.
In November of 2020, for example, the average number of an individual’s daily household contacts was 1.7. The number increased slightly in December to 1.8, and dropped back to 1.7 from January to March.
Citing this data, the letter authors state that although the curfew may be correlated with a decline in cases, it is not necessarily the cause of the drop in cases.
“The government has never demonstrated the efficiency of the curfew. Instead, it carefully avoided discussing numbers, rather using a confirmation bias sophism: the curfew worked because the number of cases dwindled or less people went outside during the night.”
Quebec Liberal leader Dominique Anglade also had strong opposition to the government’s measures – especially at a time when the rapid antigen tests that were to be made available to Quebecers for free have run out.
Anglade did not mince words in an evening statement, calling the announcement "an acknowledgment of the failure of (Legault's) management of the pandemic and proof that he has lost control."
"All Francois Legault announced today is that Quebecers should make additional efforts, but that the government is not fulfilling its part of the contract," she said, adding the government’s inability to provide enough test kits to Quebecers is further indictment of their mismanagement of the crisis.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase