Heavy police presence expected across Quebec as 8 p.m. curfew starts tonight

Quebecers out in the street after 8 p.m. tonight can expect to be questioned by police as a month-long curfew comes into effect to control the spread of COVID-19.

The province announced earlier this week that the curfew will be in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., except for those who fall into certain exempted categories, such as essential workers.

Deputy Premier Genevieve Guilbault said earlier this week that the measure is designed to make it easier to catch people who are intent on gathering, in violation of current health orders.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault posted an address to the province on his Facebook page Saturday.

"This is a difficult decision I made to curb the spread of the virus," he wrote. "The main reason for the crufew is to prevent gatherings, even the minimal ones. Anyone can catch it and pass it on to a loved one. Even if we have no symptoms, we can spread the virus."

Guilbault said in a tweet that the province will send out an emergency alert this afternoon to remind Quebecers of the curfew, and that police will be more visible on the streets over the weekend.

The curfew comes as Quebec's COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise and hospitals say they're filling up and risk becoming overwhelmed.

It will last at least four weeks, until Feb. 8, and violators could face fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000. Those minors over 14 years old can face a fine of $500.

Une communication Québec En Alerte sera émise demain pour aviser tous les citoyens de l'entrée en vigueur du couvre-feu. Les policiers seront également très visibles ce weekend. Un ultime effort parallèlement à la vaccination qui se poursuit. Restons chez nous, sauvons des vies.

— Geneviève Guilbault (@GGuilbaultCAQ) January 8, 2021

"As premier, my first duty is to protect Quebecers," Legault wrote. "I consider the situation to be critical and need a shock treatment."

On Saturday, Quebec reported that there were 24,589 active cases in the province, and 1,392 people were in the province's hospitals being treated for the disease.

In addition, the province shattered its record for number of new cases when Quebec announced Satiurday that 3,127 more people tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours.

"Our hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients," said the premier. "Hundreds of people are in ICU (206 patients) fighting for their lives. Dozens of people die every day."

Some public health experts have said they believe the curfew will help to reduce people's contacts and send a message about the seriousness of the pandemic.

But others have questioned whether the measure will be effective, and have expressed concerns it will lead to excessive ticketing of people who are vulnerable or homeless.

Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said this week that while he can't provide proof the curfew will work, it's part of a series of measures aimed at reducing the possibility of gatherings and of contact between people. "There's no science that can tell you what measure will have what percentage effect," he told reporters.

Under the rules, grocery stores and convenience stores will have to close at 7:30 p.m. in order to allow workers and customers to get home. Stores connected to gas stations can stay open to serve essential workers.

The province has also shut down places of worship for all but small funerals, tightened mask-wearing rules for schools, and has extended the closure of non-essential businesses until at least Feb. 8.

The premier said in his post that many treatments and operations are being delayed, including cancer treatments, and that the province is approaching a tipping point where "we can only cure the most urgent cases."

"It can affect everyone, our loved ones as ourselves," said Legault. "Our battle ends and as in a long marathon, the last few kilometres are the hardest. I beg you to make this last effort."

-- with files from The Canadian Press.

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