Politics

Quebec easing pandemic measures sooner, will lift mask requirements


Measures, including the obligation to show a vaccination passport, will be dropped starting March 12, two days earlier than originally planned.

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QUEBEC — The province is going to ease COVID-19 pandemic health measures earlier than planned, including removing face mask rules in most public spaces by mid-April.

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Measures, including the obligation to show a vaccination passport, will be dropped starting March 12, two days earlier than originally planned, the ministry of health said in a statement Wednesday.

Quebec has also decided public places such as rented halls, bars, restaurants, taverns and casinos will be allowed to operate at full capacity starting March 12. Dancing and karaoke will be allowed. The Canadiens announced full capacity will return when they host the Seattle Kraken at the Bell Centre March 12.

Restaurants and bars will also be allowed to return to a normal schedule and drop their registries of clients. Visitors will no longer have to sign registries when visiting seniors’ residences as well.

Quebec has already announced elementary and high school students will no longer be required to wear masks when they return from their respective March breaks, but now has outlined a schedule to drop them elsewhere.

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It says masks will no longer be required in public spaces (other than public transit) no later than mid-April. At the earliest in the month of May, masks will be dropped from public transit as well.

The specific days are to be announced at a later date, but will be announced 10 days in advance. Quebec’s interim director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, is to hold a news conference Thursday to explain the plan further.

“Within 10 days, most of the measures will be lifted,” Health Minister Christian Dubé said in the statement. “This represents a very significant stage and we can all be proud of our efforts to get here.

“However, we have to learn to live with the virus that is still circulating and to remain prudent. The wearing of masks, even when it is not obligatory, will remain part of our arsenal to reduce the risks of transmission in certain circumstances.”

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Dubé warned that wearing a mask will, nevertheless, be recommended in certain circumstances such as when a person is aware they have the symptoms of COVID-19 or during social interactions following a five-day confinement period or with persons with compromised immune systems.

The complete easing of mask rules, however, does not apply to the workplace and the health-care system, including public long-term care homes (CHSLDs).

Since Feb. 28, the wearing of a mask at your desk has been optional if workers can maintain two metres distance. The same goes for workers who have physical barriers separating them.

However, office workers still have to don masks when they walk through high-circulation areas like hallways and elevators. Those masks must be provided by the employer.

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The easing comes with a general warning to the population.

“Because COVID-19 is still present, respecting elementary sanitary rules is still required to limit the spread of COVID-19,” the ministry said. “That means people have to continue washing their hands, cough into their elbow and keep their distance.”

Quebec’s moves follow those of other provinces. Alberta has lifted nearly all its restrictions. Masks are still required in higher risk situations such as public transit.

Masks are still required in Ontario, but vaccine passports were dropped this week in many locations.

The easing of the rules follows two weekends of protests around the National Assembly that drew thousands including many in truck convoys.

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The Legault government has insisted the protests had nothing to do with the easing, but has acknowledged Quebecers are fed up with the rules.

On Wednesday the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) announced that the gradual easing of health restrictions between now and March 14 should not result in an increase of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Montreal area on the same level that was seen in January.

On Wednesday Quebec reported 20 more COVID-19 deaths. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has dropped by 58 to 1,381.

pauthier@postmedia.com

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