Quebec’s plan to reopen brings well-deserved hope – and yes, some risks
Premier François Legault was visibly optimistic on Tuesday – more than he has been for a long time – in setting a timetable for the province to reopen.
And why shouldn’t he be? After imposing a curfew in much of the province since January, closing schools in some areas and keeping restaurants, bars and gyms closed, Quebec became the first province to publish a full-fledged plan with dates to relax the restrictions.
(Saskatchewan earlier released a roadmap related to immunization rates, with no specific timeline, and Ontario was set to announce theirs on Thursday afternoon.)
The first step in Quebec’s plan, starting May 28, is to lift the curfew where it still exists, including Montreal, and allow outdoor gatherings on private property and sit-down service. restaurant patios.
On May 29, the province will also be the first to allow fans to return to an NHL arena – with 2,500 permits at the Bell Center for Game 6 of the Leafs-Canadiens playoff series (if the Habs didn’t. not already won).
If all goes well, the gyms and restaurants inside will reopen a few days later, on May 31.
In mid-June, Legault said most regions would not meet the so-called red and orange levels of restrictions, and at the yellow level, meaning people from two different households can congregate inside and that bars can reopen.
There are, however, notes of caution about Quebec’s plan, issued by experts and even by Montreal’s own director of public health, who has helped the city so far avoid a third wave.
Dates vs vaccination rates
Quebec has been subject to some of the strictest measures across the country and evidently the calendar provided a much needed sense of hope to a weary audience.
There is also some trepidation.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Johnny Zatylnyhalo on Wednesday, who left for a bike ride on the Lachine Canal. “I think we just have to take it step by step.”
In general, Quebec is moving in the right direction, with daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths decreasing, and the latest screenings from the Quebec health research institute, INESSS, suggest that this trend will continue.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for the province with the most deaths per capita in the country.
In the days and weeks leading up to the announcement, Legault said he was in favor of the Saskatchewan approach, where the lifting of the measures is linked to the vaccination rate.
But in the end, Quebec’s roadmap is a chronology based on the date, with the hope that the vaccination rate and an improvement in the situation in hospitals will allow the measures to be gradually lifted.
Dr Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, said there were obvious downsides to this choice.
“I think we’ve all seen enough during this pandemic where there have been unexpected twists and turns,” he said.
“Suddenly there is a shortage of vaccine. Suddenly there is an epidemic in an area of a particularly transmissible variant.”
Establishing a clear schedule has obvious advantages: it will allow the owners of restaurants, bars, gymnasiums and other businesses in the province, who have been suffering for a long time, to prepare and recruit staff, and the public to make decisions. plans for the summer. (The restaurants had actually hoped for further warning).
But, said Oughton, “once you’ve committed to a tough date, if you’ve got to change, then you’re going to have people come back to you and say, ‘Well, you said,’ and that actually a little more difficult. “
The performance-related benefit of reopening Saskatchewan, he said, is that it serves as motivation for the public.
“It is in a way a way of encouraging, before reaching these levels, to continue to follow the measures in place and to continue to be vaccinated,” he said.
Kim Lavoie, Canada Research Chair in Behavioral Medicine at the University of Quebec at Montreal, fears that delaying the planned reopening will be difficult in the event of a setback.
Quebec was already forced to tighten restrictions across much of the province earlier this year after an increase in cases.
“It has an impact not only on businesses and everyone, but also on a psychological level,” Lavoie said.
“So there is this risk of binding it to a certain date and then having to withdraw, isn’t there?”
A word of warning from Montreal
The vaccination rate in Quebec is increasing rapidly; 61% of adults received a dose of the vaccine and 14% made an appointment. But the province has not started vaccinating adolescents, and only three percent of the population received two doses.
The province made an early decision to delay the second dose and send vaccines from Montreal to Quebec, which saw a spike in cases earlier this year.
These decisions have paid off, but Montreal is now lagging behind other regions of the province in terms of its vaccination rate.
On Wednesday, Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of public health for Montreal, was uncomfortable with the idea of tying the reopening to dates rather than the situation on the ground.
Although Montreal was able to avoid a third wave, she noted that the city is still considered a red zone, on high alert for restrictions.
“I have always said that I do not put dates on things, but I am convinced that we will be able, in the weeks to come, to reduce the rate of infection and to stabilize it”, she declared on Radio. -Canada. All morning.
“As soon as we allow indoor events, there is a risk. We increase the contact. We cannot yo-yo reopen, so we will have to be quite careful.”
WATCH | Quebec will begin lifting the restrictions later this month:
Later in the day, Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province was comfortable with its month-end target. Dubé said he was convinced Montreal would see the infection rate drop.
“The odds are really high and that’s why we presented the plan the way we did, and the Prime Minister insisted that we were able to meet the dates. But we must continue to do the same work that was done by Quebeckers, ”he said.
Given the huge influx of vaccines, Dubé also said appointments for second doses would be increased once the first round of vaccinations is over.
“If we continue this way, we should have some very good news at the end of May.”
But even he sounded a note of caution. “There are always things that can happen. We saw it with this pandemic, last year there can always be surprises.”