Quebec braces for possible province-wide COVID-19 curfew, which would be a first in Canada

OUR LATEST UPDATE: Curfew coming to Quebec as new, stronger lockdown takes effect on Saturday


The Quebec government is set to make an announcement today that would place the province under the tightest restrictions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: a lockdown coupled with an overnight curfew.

The new restrictions and extended lockdown measures are expected to begin Saturday and last three to four weeks as the local COVID-19 situation spirals out of control. Hospitalizations in the province now top 1,300 and an average of 2,578 new cases per day in the last seven days.

A government source confirmed to CTV News that the curfew is on the table. Now, according to a report from La Presse, Premier François Legault is expected to impose new stay-at-home orders starting at 8 p.m., enforced by police fines. 

According to the La Presse report, grocery stores will be asked to close earlier, at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. for example, to allow their employees to go home.

Legault has a press conference scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday. If a decision is announced about a curfew, it would make Quebec the first province in Canada to impose such a measure.

The curfew would also come with other confinement measures resembling those that took place in the spring. Businesses would rely on teleworking where possible. Non-essential stores would remain closed, and only essential construction and manufacturing work would remain open, La Presse reports, adding that some projects, mostly notably work on the REM light-rail line, would be allowed to continue.

The return to schools will also be pushed back, according to the report. Originally scheduled to return on Jan. 11, the government is expected to announce that elementary schools will return to class on Jan. 18 and high school would return the following Monday, Jan. 25.

Other jurisdictions around the world and some U.S. cities have imposed a curfew in the past in an effort stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Curfews are drastic, and relatively rare in the history of public health, but more and more places have used them in recent months to battle surging COVID-19 cases, including Australia, Paris, California, New York State and Ohio. 

Quebec isn't the first Canadian province to consider the idea -- Ontario did so in late fall as its health-care system became overloaded.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister also said he was seriously looking at a province-wide curfew in early November, when Manitoba had the country's worst COVID caseload.

However, a Quebec curfew wouldn't be a complete first in Canada or even in Quebec: some smaller jurisdictions reached that milestone last spring, when hamlets in Nunavik, in Quebec's far north, were put under a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew with their first COVID-19 cases.

A DRASTIC MEASURE

“Curfews would be at the end of the spectrum where the wheels have fallen off and you’re basically grasping at straws for anything to keep the virus under control because your healthcare system is getting stretched beyond capacity,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist, told CTV Toronto last month.

The logic behind curfews is simply that they limit people's contacts and their chances to gather outside their households.

Curfews can be effective, Bogoch said, but only when combined with other, stringent public health measures. They're never used on their own.

Curfews can also take different forms, not only in terms of what time they begin each night, but also in what they limit: for example, Ohio first had a curfew on alcohol sales, banning any sales after 10 p.m.

Later, in late November, the state broadened the curfew, banning people from being outside their homes between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. except if they were seeking medical help, were travelling to or from work, or to get "necessary food" and social services. That order is currently in place until Jan. 23.

Quebec may have particular problems instituting a curfew -- a poll in November found that out of all Canadians, Quebec men are the most opposed to the idea of a COVID-19 curfew, with nearly half of men aged 18 to 34 in the province opposed.

NOTES FROM A FORMER MONTREALER UNDER CURFEW

Lauren Reynolds, who lived in Montreal for six and a half years, is now under a nighttime curfew in Paris and says it's not so bad -- at least compared to the 24/7 lockdown order in place for about six weeks before that, until mid-December.

"For the curfew, it's easier to manage, really," said Reynolds, who is in her early 30s and doing postdoctoral research in neuroscience at the Sorbonne.

While there were a lot of forms and rules in place during the all-day lockdown order -- for example, residents could have one hour of recreational outdoor time per day, within a kilometre of their homes -- the curfew has one main rule: stay home after 8 p.m.

In Paris, if you need to go out at night for an essential reason, there's a form you must fill out and present to police if stopped. The police can then double-check your written attestation against other documents, such as an authorization letter from an employer or your official ID with your home address.

"It's kind of an honour system with random checks," Reynolds said.

The purpose of the curfew is clear, she said: "to keep people from having dinner parties, or parties, or gatherings... in private homes."

A curfew in place last fall began at 9 p.m., giving people more time to organize their daily groceries, and the new rule, moving it to 8 p.m., can be "kind of annoying because in France you eat dinner late," Reynolds said. 

"The concept of stocking up on a bunch of non-perishable food and eating, like, pasta for a week is really incompatible with the French lifestyle," she said.

But it's succeeded in emptying out Paris's streets after 8 p.m., Reynolds said. 

France as a whole has also succeeded in dramatically bending its COVID-19 curve down since a peak around Nov. 7.

Reynolds said she hasn't found the nighttime curfew too much of a strain, but for some people, including some of the grad students she knows, "it's really hard...especially in a place like Paris, where a lot of the apartments are really small."

She moved away from Montreal in spring 2019 and said it's still hard to imagine it with empty streets, devoid of night life.

"While it's really hard for me to picture Montreal like that, I also know Montreal is really resilient," she said.

"I almost picture it just buried under a layer of snow."

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