Relieved to be reverting to yellow, 3 Quebec regions ready for more freedom

·3 min read
Quebec Premier Francois Legault, left, speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, March 9, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube, right, looks on.  (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec Premier Francois Legault, left, speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, March 9, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube, right, looks on. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Montrealers may be excited about having an extra 90 minutes before curfew kicks in as of tonight, but three regions of the province are relieved to be doing away with curfews altogether as of next week, when they will be downgraded to yellow zones.

As of March 26, the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands, the North Shore, and northern Quebec, are all going yellow.

That means people from two private households will be allowed to gather, more sportings activities will be allowed, bars and casinos can open with some restrictions.

As in red zones, venues such as cinemas and performance halls will be able to welcome up to 250 people.

Magdalen Islands MNA Joël Arseneau — along with several other officials in Eastern Quebec — has been pushing to loosen some restrictions since the new year.

He says residents have waited too long already but the change announced by the premier Tuesday is "better late than never."

Joël Arseneau, the member of the Quebec legislature representing the Magdalen Islands, has been pushing for loosened COVID-19 restrictions in the region since January.
Joël Arseneau, the member of the Quebec legislature representing the Magdalen Islands, has been pushing for loosened COVID-19 restrictions in the region since January.(Radio-Canada)

"The situation has been stable for months," Arseneau said. "We were expecting this decision to be made a month ago, at least," he said.

Arseneau said Magdalen Islanders have been getting antsy, especially as the weather improves.

He says the number of COVID-19 cases on the archipelago is negligible and it's been hard to get people to follow the rules when they don't see the reason behind them.

Not your old yellow

Still, officials in the soon-to-be yellow zones say the new rules are stricter than when they were last designated yellow in the fall, especially when it comes to the number of people who can gather in a home, and regulations for contact sports.

"It is a new yellow," said Connie Jacques, the deputy director general of the CISSS de la Gaspésie et des Îles. "We actually would have liked to call it something else."

Jacques said people in the region are "very happy" the restrictions have been relaxed, but that they're referring to the new colour alert level as amber.

"We're seeing different measures in place from when we were in yellow before," she said.

Jacques said at this point in the pandemic, people in the region are able to stamp down outbreaks in a relatively short time.

"The population is respecting the measures because they really want to move forward," she said. "The vaccinations are in place, and we're all working as a community with elected officials and public health to make sure that when there is an outbreak we're able to control it really quickly.

Inching toward red

Meanwhile, with more than 100 new COVID-19 cases in the last three days in the Saguenay, the director of public health in the region is warning residents they're inching back into a red zone.

Dr. Donald Aubin said the region has already surpassed threshold of new daily cases for a red zone, and he's closely monitoring the other criteria, such as pressure on the health network as a whole.

Lobbying for yellow status

Several local officials in the Lower Saint Lawrence, however, have said they're disappointed to be staying orange.

The prefect for the MRC of Matapédia told Radio-Canada she believes the government should loosen restrictions in her region, and CAQ MNA for Matane-Matapédia Pascal Berubé said it may be time to consider splitting the Lower Saint Lawrence in two.

Berubé said part of the region — which has seen some cases in the last few weeks and which neighbours regions with higher infection rates — could stay orange and the rest could go yellow.

But Lower Saint Lawrence Director of Public Health Dr. Sylvain Leduc said changing alert levels is up to the government, and in this case, he "entirely supports" staying orange.

Leduc said he understands people are frustrated, but the variant cases and the geographic proximity to higher alert levels like the Quebec City region and Chaudiere-Appalaches, make him wary of going yellow.