Holiday gatherings can happen, but only between the 24th and the 27th: Legault
By Selena Ross
In a long-awaited update around Christmas rules, Quebec Premier Francois Legault proposed today a "moral contract" that depends on people's sense of responsibility.
"We propose to allow gatherings for four days, from Dec. 24 to 27, with a maximum of 10 people," Legault said in a press conference in Montreal.
"But we ask people to limit their contacts as much as possible a week before and a week after," he said. "That way, when we see our friends and family, we'll limit the risk of contagion."
Of course, people who show symptoms of COVID-19 during that week, or on the 24th, should get a test and should not attend any gatherings, Legault said.
New Year's Eve parties will also be strictly forbidden, he said, since they would compromise the post-Christmas self-isolation period.
High-schoolers get an extra week off
The province is changing some school dates to allow these two periods of self-isolation.
All Quebec schools will physically close by Dec. 17 in favour of virtual teaching for the last few days before the holidays, in order to allow each family a one-week quarantine, Legault said.
The province will also mandate a longer school break after the holidays, but only for secondary students.
Primary schools will open across Quebec on the currently scheduled dates, and secondary schools will reopen on Jan. 11, though some student work will be given during that time, Legault said.
Daycares will follow the same schedule as elementary schools, with an exception for the children of essential workers such as health-care workers, teachers and other child-care workers, Legault said. Those children may remain in daycare for their previously scheduled days.
The closure of gyms, theatres and restaurant dining and other red-zone restrictions will also remain in place until at least January 11, Legault said.
The province is also asking all of the province's employers to facilitate this plan by allowing as much remote work as possible during the two weeks of planned self-isolation. The government will be doing so, Legault said.
On Wednesday, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced he was waiving extended school vacations, believing that current protocols in schools were sufficient to keep school children safe.
'Do the minimum'
Quebec director of public health Horacio Arruda said the system was designed to be simple and to allow flexibility for people with shared custody or other family arrangements.
Rather than creating rules around "bubbles," limiting people to just one group of people they can see repeatedly, Quebecers won't have further rules around how many groups of 10 they may see, or how many gatherings they attend within those four days.
However, Arruda repeated several times, the fact that the province is allowing some small parties doesn't mean "you...have to do the maximum that you can," he said.
"Do the minimum."
The system relies on regular people taking personal responsibility for reducing risk as much as possible, Arruda said.
"Don't say you're going to do a big party in those four days and we're in Carnaval," he said. "That's not what we're looking for."
The idea of the "moral contract" also includes taking careful stock of which people in your life face the most risk.
For instance, the authories asked Quebecers to think seriously about which relatives are elderly or would likely suffer the worst COVID-19 complications.
Those people's health must be prioritized, and if they aren't comfortable attending events, that must also be respected, said Legault.
"It's possible that there will be some parents or some grandparents who are afraid, who think that it's too risky" and want to cancel family gatherings for the year, Legault said.
"Everyone in Quebec must respect these wishes."
Don't rely on a test
Arruda also gave a stern warning that it's "dangerous" to rely on COVID-19 tests taken just before the holidays to feel "safe" and virus-free before gathering.
The reason, he said, is that the virus won't show up on the tests for the first few days, so there are many cases of false negatives among people who take tests right after being infected.
"Before the test becomes positive, it takes a certain time, and you're already contagious [during that time]," he said.
If you take a test, for example, "on the 23rd...then you go to a party, that is very dangerous," Arruda said.
"Do the confinement, as we've explained, and if you have symptoms, go get tested," he said.
"Do not rely on a negative test. That's a big mistake."
Family is the 'heart of our nation'
To explain why Quebec isn't discouring family gatherings more strictly, Legault said he believes people have a deep need to reconnect with relatives, this year more than most.
"We must remember that family is at the heart of who we are. It's at the heart of our nation, for me, anyways," said the premier, who grew up in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, west of Montreal.
"I've got the [good luck] to have a wife and two sons, and I want to see them," he said. "I'm lucky enough to have my mother -- she's 91 years old. I don't know how many Christmases we have left with her."
He also mentioned his two sisters.
"I need to see them," he said.
This year, he said, "we're in a fight" that will last a few more months.
"We need to recharge our batteries, and a good way to do this is to gather with our families," he said.
"Christmas, the holidays, is a time of year that's precious, and let's remember that family is the basis of our lives."
But what about Chanukah?
At the press conference, reporters pointed out that one of the eight days of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah falls within the first self-isolation week, while, of course, special rules were not created around the major Jewish holidays in September.
When asked why the four Christmas days were chosen to relax COVID-19 rules province-wide -- especially given that the CAQ government has insisted so strongly, through controversial legislation, that secularism is key to Quebec -- Legault had a brief answer.
"We think most people will be happy with those four days, so that's why we chose those four days," he said.
In a statement Thursday evening, one Quebec Jewish organization also pointed out the discrepancy.
“We appreciate the government’s efforts to balance the imperatives of communal health and family holiday celebrations," said Rabbi Reuben Poupko, the co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Quebec (CIJA).
"We hope and anticipate that the liberties granted to the Christian community will be shared equitably with the other faith communities of Quebec."