All of Quebec expected to leave highest COVID-19 alert level by June 7: Legault

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MONTREAL — All Quebec regions are expected to be out of the province's highest pandemic-alert level by June 7, Premier François Legault said Tuesday, as the situation in the province continued to improve.

Pandemic restrictions across eight Quebec regions will be relaxed on May 31, Legault told reporters in Quebec City.

Five of those regions will move entirely from red to the orange level, under which in-person dining at restaurants is permitted and gyms can reopen. In three regions, Chaudière-Appalaches, Estrie and Bas-St-Laurent, several municipalities will remain at the red level while the rest will move to orange.

The province's largest city, Montreal, and its northern suburb of Laval will remain at the red level until at least June 7, Legault said.

"In Montreal and Laval, we'll stay in red for another week, but even in red zones the situation is improving," he said. "If we continue this way, all regions should turn orange on June 7."

Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said there is a "good chance" Montreal and Laval will move to the lower restriction level on June 7, but it's not guaranteed.

"There is always, with epidemiology and with the virus, surprises that could happen," he said. Public health is looking for the number of new cases and hospitalizations to trend down in those two areas, not just for the number of cases to reach a certain level, Arruda added.

Quebec will announce a plan on Thursday to advance appointments for second COVID-19 vaccine doses, Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters at the same news conference.

"With the additional vaccine that we have from Pfizer in June and July, we will be able to accelerate those appointments," Dubé said.

Quebec has been delaying second doses by about four months from the first dose. People with second-dose appointments in September would likely be able to move them forward to August, for example, he said.

"Our goal, in summary, is to have everybody (fully) vaccinated prior to Aug. 31," Dubé said.

The government is trying to advance second doses for vulnerable people who cannot travel to vaccination sites, Dubé said, adding that people who live in private seniors residences are scheduled to receive second doses before May 31.

Almost 100,000 people aged 12 to 17 have made appointments to be vaccinated since the online booking system opened to them on Monday evening, Dubé said. Other teens were able to get vaccinated at walk-in clinics over the weekend.

Dubé has said the province wants to make sure all kids and teens get a first shot by June 23 and are fully vaccinated around the time school resumes in the fall. Those 14 and up can consent to being vaccinated, but those who are 12 and 13 will need their parents' permission.

On Tuesday, Dubé defended the province's decision to begin vaccinating teenagers while more vulnerable people are still waiting for their second doses. "One doesn't prevent the other," he said, adding that the province has sufficient supply to vaccinate the two groups "in parallel."

Quebec's public health institute said Tuesday 55.7 per cent of residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and that 5.5 per cent of them are "adequately vaccinated," meaning they have received two doses, or have had COVID-19 and received one dose.

The Health Department said 50,934 doses of vaccine were administered Monday, for a total of 5,051,681.

Legault said Quebec will continue with its plan to lift the curfew, allow restaurant patios to reopen and permit outdoor gatherings of up to eight people on private property across the province on May 28.

Health officials reported 346 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, none of which occurred within the previous 24 hours. Officials said hospitalizations dropped by nine, to 415, and 101 people were in intensive care, a drop of one.

The Public Security Department said 1,058 people received tickets for violating the province's curfew between May 17 and May 23.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2021.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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