Curfew coming to Quebec as new, stronger lockdown takes effect on Saturday

As of Saturday, Quebecers will be living under a curfew while the province struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

As expected, Premier Francois Legault announced a "shock therapy" of several new lockdown measures on Wednesday afternoon.

Among the measures is a curfew that will require Quebecers to be in their homes by 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. or risk a fine of up to $6,000.

For people who say "'I won't be able to go for a walk anymore,' well, come on," Legault said.

"If you want to work a little bit later, you can work after 8 p.m. at home," and go for a walk during the day, he said.

"We're talking here about saving lives and we're talking about saving our health-care system." 

The curfew will apply to the whole province except the Nord-du-Quebec administrative region.

Legault stressed that other than for going to work, there will be no excuses for violating curfew. He said the province's grocery stores and depanneurs will close at 7:30 p.m. every day to allow shoppers time to get home.

Pharmacies and gas stations will be permitted to remain open during curfew hours. 

The new measures will last for four weeks, until Feb. 8.

Measures that had previously been in place, such as the closing of restaurant dining rooms, will also remain in place for the four weeks. 

The premier said he expects Quebec's homeless population to abide by the curfew, saying he believed there is enough room in the province's shelters.

Advocates have said their resources and services are at a breaking point as COVID-19 has spread amongst the homeless. 

For the (many) people who have asked: I have confirmed with the Premier's office that people will be allowed to walk their dogs after the 8 P.M. curfew but ONLY within 1 km of their homes. @CTVMontreal

— Kelly Greig (@KellyGreig) January 7, 2021

The announcement comes as the number of daily new cases and deaths continue to grow within the province. Quebec's death toll from COVID-19 currently stands at 8,488 since the beginning of the pandemic.

SCHOOLS RE-OPENING, HOUSES OF WORSHIP CLOSE

Legault announced that while the province has seen a number of COVID-19 outbreaks stemming from the province's schools, primary schools will re-open as planned on Jan. 11.

As part of the terms for re-opening, students in the fifth and sixth grades will be required to wear masks in the classroom.

High schools, however, will not resume in person until Jan. 18. 

Legault urged families to avoid a particularly risky activity: allowing grandparents to babysit while schools are closed. While children often don't show COVID-19 symptoms, potentially exposing older grandparents to the virus is extremely dangerous, he said.

"That is not a good idea."

As part of the new measures, Legault said that houses of worship, which have been allowed to operate with a capacity of 25 people, will be totally closed for four weeks, with the exception of funerals, where attendance will be capped at 10 people. 

Just two months ago, Legault floated the possibility of Christmas gatherings as an incentive for Quebecers to comply with COVID-19 rules.

But as the number of new cases continued to grow, he backtracked. On Dec. 14, the premier announced an 18-day lockdown over the Christmas break, calling it a “circuit-breaker” that would allow the province time to regroup.

On the day of that announcement, 1,620 new cases were reported. On Wednesday, public health officials announced 2,641 new cases.

THE BENEFITS OF A CURFEW

A local public health expert said one benefit of curfews is simple: they remind people of the seriousness of the situation and their own duty to help.

“By instituting a curfew we encourage individual awareness of the risks associated with going out,” said Roxane Borges Da Silva of the Université de Montreal’s school of public health.

In France, for example, it’s possible to go out during curfew, but people must justify why, she said—which encourages people to think along those lines.

“You have to have a good reason to get out, and you have to fill a form… and you have a list of reasons which are accepted,” Da Silva said.“So you can get out to walk your dog, no problem with that, you can get out to go to the pharmacy, you can get out to help your parents, old people, there's no problem for that—but you have to be responsible and know that you can get out for this good reason and otherwise you stay home.”

She said that even 10 months into the pandemic, she thinks many people still don’t fully realize the danger of COVID-19, either catching it or transmitting it.The curfew in France was an effective measure, she said, and Quebec is at the same kind of crisis moment.

"I know it goes against our values, but we are really at a breaking point,” she said.“We can't afford to have so many cases every day and we know that hospitals are at a breaking point too.”  

BATTLE OF OUR LIVES

Legault began the press conference by wishing Quebecers a happy and healthy new year but admitted the province is in a "critical" situationthat is "the battle of our lives."

He called the decision to enact the curfew "difficult," but necessary to protect the province's healthcare network. 

"Although we studied dozens of scenarios, in each scenario there are disadvantages," he said. "The first thing we asked ourselves... is why? Why, with all the efforts we're making, with schools and businesses closed, there are so many new cases every day? The answer is hard: it happened a lot in people's homes."

This is a developing story and will be updated.

--With files from CTV's Genevieve Beauchemin

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