Quebec to reopen cinemas and some indoor sports, Outaouais region moves to 'orange'

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Quebec will ease some COVID-19 restrictions ahead of March break, Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday, adding that parents will need something to do with their kids when they're off school.

Starting Feb. 26, cinemas can reopen across the province — even in "red" zones, Legault said in Quebec City. Indoor sports in arenas and pools will also be permitted, he added, for family bubbles or groups of two. Up to eight people will be able to gather outdoors.

Legault said he wanted to give parents and children options for fun ahead of the one-week school break that begins March 1.

"I put myself in the place of parents," Legault said about the school break. "The cinema, that's a great activity ... going inside the pool, the arena, these are activities that can occupy children. It's important for the mental health of children and parents."

The Outaouais region, which includes Gatineau and borders Ontario, will move to the lower, "orange" pandemic-alert level on Feb. 22, Legault said. Six less-populated regions are already at the orange alert level, under which gyms and in-person restaurant dining can resume and the nighttime curfew is pushed back to 9:30 p.m.

Montreal and Quebec City, however, will remain at the red pandemic-alert level, Legault said, adding that residents in those regions will have to continue to obey the 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. nighttime curfew.

"We wanted to be more prudent than less prudent," Legault said about easing restrictions.

The modest reopenings were announced as the province's daily infection count and the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations continued to trend downward on Tuesday. Quebec reported 669 new cases of COVID-19 and 20 more deaths, including six in the past 24 hours.

The number of new cases was the lowest in months, but the government hadn't yet disclosed how many COVID-19 tests had been conducted to reach that figure. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by 33, to 771, and 134 people were in intensive care, down two. COVID-19-related hospitalizations have dropped by 198 since Feb. 7.

Quebec's public health institute has confirmed 16 cases of variants of the novel coronavirus, including 13 cases of the mutation first detected in the United Kingdom and believed to be more contagious. Health Minister Christian Dube said there are another 86 suspected cases of variants in the province.

The spread of variants will have a major influence on when and to what extent the government lifts restrictions, Dube said.

"It's very clear that if the variants are limited at the beginning and the right measures of confinement are done, countries have been able to limit the impact of those variants," he said.

Vaccinations, Legault added, will also play a big role in the province's eventual reopening.

"If we succeed in the next few weeks to have all vulnerable people vaccinated, it will be a completely new ball game and then you would be able to start thinking about meeting other people in houses," he said. "The vaccine is very key. What's happening with the variants also is key."

The premier likened the COVID-19 situation in the province to the coming spring: "The days are getting longer and spring is coming ... but winter is not over. There are a few snowstorms left.

"It's somewhat the same thing with the pandemic. Things are getting better, but the pandemic is not over. There are still important risks for Quebecers."

Earlier Tuesday, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade urged Legault's government to be more transparent about its decisions on managing the pandemic. She said any easing of restrictions should also be accompanied by more rapid testing and increased screening for COVID-19 variants.

The province said it administered 2,732 doses of vaccine on Monday, for a total of 297,694. Quebec has reported a total of 278,187 COVID-19 infections and 10,246 deaths linked to the pandemic. The province has 9,399 active reported infections.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2021.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press