Quebec reports 707 COVID-19 cases, seven deaths as many restrictions set to ease

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MONTREAL — Quebec reported 707 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths on Sunday, as much of the province prepared to transition to the lower orange alert level of pandemic-related public health restrictions.

Two of the deaths occurred in the past 24 hours, while the rest happened earlier or at an unknown date.

Hospitalizations declined by nine to 592, with 107 people in intensive care, which is two fewer than the day before.

The Quebec government announced last week that it would ease restrictions in most of the province on March 8, with the exception of Montreal and the surrounding regions where restaurant dining rooms will stay closed and an 8 p.m. curfew remains in effect.

Quebec City and four other regions will move to the lower, "orange'' pandemic-alert level of the province's response framework, which means more businesses can open and the start of the nighttime curfew will be pushed back to 9:30 p.m.

Health Minister Christian Dube asked Quebecers to stick to their own regions, writing that "now is not the time" for non-essential travel.

But for some, the loosened restrictions didn't go far enough.

A high-school football player led a protest in front of Quebec City's legislature on Sunday, demanding the resumption of all organized sports.

The province announced last week that school athletics could resume as of March 15, as long as students stay within classroom groups.

Police, meanwhile, announced that they had issued tickets totaling more than $1,500 to 36 people who gathered at a cottage north of Quebec City on Saturday evening.

Local police said they broke up the gathering at the residence in Stoneham-et-Tewkesbury, Que., after being contacted by citizens at about 8:30 p.m.

The province administered 15,329 doses of vaccine on Saturday, and has promised to ramp up its campaign this week as more regions begin mass vaccination of the general public, beginning with older seniors.

Mass immunization began last week but has been concentrated in the Montreal area due to a higher number of cases and the risk posed by more contagious virus variants.

The age of eligibility for a vaccine ranges from 70 to 80, depending on the region.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2021

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press