Four more Quebec regions, including Montreal, at 'yellow' COVID-19 alert level: Legault

Quebec has created a system that separates the province by regions and risk levels to manage local safety measures

By Selena Ross

MONTREAL -- Four more regions of Quebec, including Montreal, face new COVID-19 restrictions after being moved to the "yellow" level in the province's COVID-19 alert system.

"The situation is critical, it's worrisome, and we must react, now," said Premier François Legault in a press conference on Tuesday, imploring Quebecers to follow the rules strictly.

Four regions were already at yellow. The new total of eight represents three quarters of the province's population, with "a few of them...very close to being in the orange zone," said Health Minister Christian Dubé, blaming "irresponsible individuals."

Legault, Dubé and Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda spoke together for an hour about why Quebec's COVID-19 count has jumped sharply in the last week and the effect it's already having.

The new regions designated as yellow are Montreal, Monteregie, Chaudiere-Appalaches and the Lower St. Lawrence.

The ones already at yellow were Laval, Eastern Townships, Outaouais and Quebec City.

On the map the government is using to show the level of urgency across the province, yellow is designated as the "early warning" level, one step more serious than green, which is designated as "vigilance."

SECOND WAVES THREE TIMES BIGGER THAN FIRST WAVES

While the three authorities detailed the new restrictions they're putting in place for different zones, they said that keeping a second wave of the virus in check will rely largely on people's voluntary actions and sense of solidarity.

"I'm counting on all of you," Legault said.

"Please, think about others. Please, wear a mask. Respect physical distancing. We are able to together to get through this and to see our number of cases decrease, but again, we must act now."

Arruda said the looming danger this fall is very serious.

Past pandemics, he said, show that "the first wave is generally much smaller than the second -- about three times smaller."

But that is with few interventions, he said, which is why it's important for people to act now.

"If we let things go, if everybody just lets their guard down... [the virus] will take advantage of that."

He also reminded Quebecers that in the first wave, there was very little community transmission -- most outbreaks occurred in care homes for the elderly. That is not the case now, he said, with social gatherings behind most of the new spread.

NEW RULES FOR YELLOW AND ORANGE ZONES

People living in yellow zones can expect greater police attention as well as one new concrete rule, Dubé said.

"There will be more police interventions, that’s for sure. There will be more inspections," he said. 

"We will prohibit the sale of food after mdinight in bars," he said.

Currently, bars must stop serving drinks at midnight, but Dubé said businesses have been using food as an excuse to ignore that rule.

"People think they’re more intelligent than the rules and Public Health, and they think 'If we want to continue to sell alcohol, well, we just need to add chicken nuggets and we’ll be okay,'" he said.

"But that’s not how it works. This is done."

For any regions that end up designated "orange" in future, a raft of new restrictions will arrive, including reducing the number of people allowed at gatherings, both public and private.

"We will reduce the number of people in private homes," said Dubé, from 10 to six.

Bars in orange zones will be closed, restaurants restricted to selling takeout and bigger gatherings banned.

'ALL THE RIGHT EXCUSES'

Dubé said that in many of the troubled regions, it's easy to see what forced the switch from green to yellow -- each region had one or two notable outbreaks caused, he said, by "unacceptable" lapses.

He also said that the ramifications in each region depend not just on the number of people infected but on the strain the outbreak places on each rural area's health staff.

For example, in Montérégie, he said, "there was a gathering of 17 people in a restaurant." So far, there are 31 cases associated with that event.

But now, he said, "we will have to screen 330 clients who registered on that restaaurant’s log. Now imagine the workload for people in public health to contact all these people."

On top of that, he said, "there are some people who don't even answer the calls," tying workers up for days as they call repeatedly.

Also in Montérégie, "there was a picnic, a barbecue, outside at Mont-Saint-Bruno without any distancing measures, no masks," Dubé said.

At least five cases have resulted so far, without accounting for secondary cases, he said. "That is unacceptable to me."

In Chaudiere-Appalaches, "there was a hairdresser who knew that she was contagious," he continued. 

"She served 15 clients in six different salons," including a private seniors' residence, a public long-term care home, and a residence. 

Finally in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, some people who wanted to have a corn roast decided to officially split up the event into several smaller groups that technically abided by health restrictions. In reality, they were all socializing together.

"All the right excuses, right?" said Dubé. "What I’m hearing is that people are playing with the rules... we had more than 30 new cases just over the last 48 hours just because of this corn roast."

Dubé said, however, that "Montreal has behaved well -- it was the last region to go into the yellow zone" among the eight. 

"And I think one of the reasons for this is that people [in Montreal] had a hard time in the first wave," he said.

"It’s much easier to convince someone who has lost a loved one [to be vigilant]… and that’s what Montreal experienced."

However, he said, Montreal is "not out of the woods."  

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