Quebec premier says no mask mandate on the horizon despite strain on health network

People wear face masks as they walk through a Montreal market in November of 2021. There are no plans to make this a requirement again, Quebec's premier says. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
People wear face masks as they walk through a Montreal market in November of 2021. There are no plans to make this a requirement again, Quebec's premier says. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Quebec Premier François Legault says there is "no question" of reintroducing a mask mandate for public spaces.

The premier made the statement to reporters Tuesday on the sidelines of a caucus meeting of his MNAs in Quebec City, as the Coalition Avenir Québec prepares for the next session of the National Assembly.

Currently, Quebec Public Health encourages mask-wearing in certain situations, such as when you have any flu or cold symptoms.

The province also recommends face-coverings when interacting with vulnerable people, such as those with compromised immune systems. Masks are required in most health-care settings and some workplaces, the province says.

But the regulation requiring a face-covering in public — a rule that was mostly dropped on May 14 — isn't coming back any time soon, Legault said.

The province's College of Physicians, on the other hand, is urging people to wear masks in public spaces, citing a "worrying rise" in respiratory virus cases among children — and overflowing pediatric emergency rooms.

On Monday, Ontario's chief medical officer of health said he is "strongly recommending" the wearing of masks in all indoor public settings, including schools and childcare settings, but he stopped short of recommending a return to a mask mandate in the province.

Quebec's Minister of Health Christian Dubé, and the province's director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, are expected to provide an update on the situation Wednesday.

Health network under strain

There has been an upsurge in respiratory infections across Canada in recent weeks, particularly among children. At the same time, COVID-19 is continuing to spread and flu season is getting underway.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says people should be extra careful because respiratory viruses are getting a strong start on the cold and flu season in the country while immunity to COVID-19 is declining and social contact is increasing.

 

Pushing for voluntary mask-wearing means many people will consider it optional, and possibly even unnecessary, behaviour expert and York University associate professor Rebecca Bassett-Gunter told The Canadian Press.

"Without mandating it, I think people are hearing a message that it must not be as bad as it was,'' says Bassett-Gunter, whose research at the school of kinesiology and health science has included a look at how to get people to follow COVID-19 precautions.

"That's a really hard implicit message to override, unfortunately.''

Encouraging masks won't work: experts

Turney McKee said he is skeptical that "a mere recommendation'' would be enough to drive the adoption needed to mitigate public health risks

He's with Montreal-based consultancy group Decision Lab, which describes itself as a behavioural design think-tank. The firm uses applied behavioural science to guide advice for organizations and government clients.

"Sure, our attitudes or values may align with one course of action, but then when actually put in the situation to either comply or not to comply, I think it's very likely that we see a disconnect," said McKee.

Politics is not as much of a driver as fatigue, convenience and social pressure, he said.

"When the mandate is no longer there, if it is no longer convenient, we're probably going to stop,'" said McKee.

"And when we see everyone else around us starting to stop, the social influence can be very potent."