Quebec cancels plans to allow Christmas gatherings with COVID-19 cases on the rise

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The Legault government is cancelling its plan to allow holiday gatherings over four days at Christmas.

Premier Francois Legault announced Thursday that in the province's red zones, which cover most of the province, multi-household gatherings of up to 10 people will no longer be allowed over Christmas.

The Quebec government on Nov. 19 gave the green light to the get-togethers between Dec. 24 and Dec. 27, on the condition that people isolate for a week before and a week after.

But with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the rise and a health system deemed fragile due to a lack of staffing, Legault said it's not realistic to think the numbers will go down sufficiently by Christmas.

Legault said when the decision was made to allow the gatherings, officials hoped case numbers would drop.

The premier hinted Tuesday the plan could be in jeopardy and said public health officials had given themselves until Dec. 11 to decide.

``Last night, we made this decision, saying to ourselves we must be realistic, we must protect our (health-care) staff,'' Legault told reporters in Quebec City.

Legault said Quebec will maintain a longer school break as planned, with distance learning several days before Christmas for elementary and high school students.

The province has seen COVID-19 cases rise, reporting more than 1,500 on Tuesday and another 1,470 on Thursday, with 30 additional deaths linked to the pandemic.

Of the deaths announced Thursday, 12 occurred in the last 24 hours. Hospitalizations declined by three to 737, while the number of people in intensive care remained unchanged at 99.

Montreal reported the largest number of new cases, with 373, while the Quebec City, Monteregie and Lanaudiere regions each reported 145 cases or more.

The province is also battling over 1,200 active outbreaks, with most taking place in workplaces, schools and living and care environments.