All of Quebec to become 'orange zone' on March 8, except for Montreal and surrounding areas

All of Quebec will move soon to orange-zone rules, Premier François Legault announced Wednesday, with a few big exceptions: Montreal and several large surrounding regions.

Montreal, Laval, the Laurentians, Lanaudiere and Monteregie are all staying in the red zone, Legault said.

As of March 8, however, the other remaining red zones will turn to orange.

It's a complex moment, Legault said, with many good signs right now about the virus's spread, but also the growing risk of its more-contagious variants that are circulating in Quebec.

"We're still in a race against the clock," he said. "On one side, there are the variants and the effects of March Break. And on the other side, there's the vaccination."

Legault made the announcements in a late-afternoon press conference Wednesday, along with a few broader changes, such as the reintroduction of outdoor school sports as of March 15, across the province.

Moving from red to orange under the province's COVID-19 rule system will bring a series of changes for the regions in that group. Legault had already hinted that health measures may be eased after the school break, which ends this Friday.

Currently, the more remote regions of Quebec are already orange, while the most populated corridor around Montreal and Quebec City is red, including Montreal, Laval, Montérégie, the Eastern Townships, Mauricie and Centre-du-Quebec, Lanaudière, the Laurentians, Quebec City and the Chaudière-Appalaches region.

The Outaouais region, near Ottawa, was moved to orange late last month.

The situation in some of these currently red regions has stabilized, particularly in Chaudière-Appalaches, which has only 47 active COVID-19 cases right now, compared to the 548 identified in Lanaudière.

For Greater Montreal, however, hopes were already somewhat dashed on Tuesday when Minister of Health Christian Dubé said the epidemiological situation is the most precarious in Montreal, where there are the most cases of variants of the virus.

Responding to one frequently asked question, Legault said that removing the province's curfew will depend on the spread of the highly contagious variants of the virus over the coming weeks. 

For now, there's no change forecasted around the curfew, though in orange zones, it begins at 9:30 p.m. rather than 8 p.m.

A few new tweaks of the rules were announced, however: in orange zones, for example, houses of worship will now be able to host 100 people at a time, up from 25.

On the school sports plan, which applies even in red zones, more details are coming soon, Legault said.

He said, however, that while people need relief, they cannot let down their guard even if they're in newly designated orange zones, especially with the variants circulating.

"There is a real risk of having a third wave," said Legault. "I realize that people are tired -- we're all tired -- but we need to remain prudent."

In the last 10 days or so, he said, the situation "seems to have stabilized," but authorities will be keeping a very close eye on what happens in the next few weeks, after Spring Break ends this Friday.

"The vaccination is going well but we still have a few critical weeks ahead of us," he said. "We have to stay very careful, especially in Greater Montreal."

ORANGE ZONE CHANGES

In Quebec's orange zones, under current rules, the curfew starts at 9:30 p.m.

Restaurants and gyms are open, with some restrictions, as are dining rooms in seniors' residences, as well as performance halls and theatres.

Individual sports, in pairs or with the family bubble, are allowed indoors in the orange zone, and outdoor activities can be done in groups of eight, rather than four, as is the case in the red zone.

Gatherings in private places, however, remain forbidden.

--with files from The Canadian Press 

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