MONTREAL — Following a steady drop in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced Monday that stores, personal care salons and museums can reopen next week across the province.
But the pressure on hospitals in big cities such as Montreal and Quebec City is too great to justify relaxing restrictions there any further, Legault said, adding that the 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. curfew for those regions will remain.
"Unfortunately, the fight is not over," Legault told reporters. He said hospitals continue to delay about 34 per cent of surgeries to make room for COVID-related hospitalizations. "We think the curfew is a very efficient way to prevent indoor gatherings, especially among people 65 years and older."
For six of the province's less-populated regions, however, the lockdown will be eased considerably. Legault said regions including the Gaspe peninsula and the Saguenay area north of Quebec City will be moved to the lower, orange pandemic-alert level.
In those six regions, the curfew's start will be delayed to 9:30 p.m. and restaurant dining rooms, gyms and indoor sports facilities will be able to reopen as of Monday. Cinemas and theatres can begin operating again on Feb. 26, he added.
The premier said universities and junior colleges can also begin to gradually reopen next week, but he didn't provide a timeline. He said the health orders he announced Tuesday will be reviewed in two weeks.
Earlier on Monday, health officials reported 1,053 new infections and 38 deaths, including seven in the preceding 24 hours. They said hospitalizations dropped by 34, to 1,110, and 178 people were in intensive care, a drop of five. The seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 infections dropped to 1,212 — the 25th consecutive day it has declined.
Spring break in Quebec, scheduled to begin March 1, will go ahead as planned, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said Tuesday afternoon. Health authorities said there were 2,830 active cases of COVID-19 in 1,066 schools across the province on Monday — exactly two weeks after in-person classes resumed in secondary schools.
Quebec has reported a total of 264,526 infections and 9,862 deaths linked to the virus. Health officials reported an additional 1,454 recoveries Tuesday for a total of 241,537. Quebec has 13,126 active reported cases.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press