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Quebec was the first province in Canada to impose a mask mandate following the COVID-19 pandemic, and on Saturday became the latest province to allow residents to go mask-free to most indoor public places.

In effect since July 2020, the masking rule expired at 12:01 a.m., allowing customers in shops, bars, restaurants, gyms and shopping malls, as well as primary and secondary school students, to wear a mask only if they want to. wish.

However, wearing a mask remains compulsory in public transport and in health establishments. People who contract COVID-19 will be required to wear a mask in public while recovering, and companies can set their own workplace rules.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said Friday that some Quebecers will continue to mask themselves in public and that their personal choice should be respected.

“Personally, I think I will continue to wear (a mask) in certain situations where I feel more comfortable,” Dube said. “I’ll see how things develop in the coming weeks, but I think it’s just respectful to be able to allow people to wear it.”

Wearing a mask is recommended for vulnerable people, including immunocompromised people. An association representing people with immune disorders says at-risk residents fear having to navigate difficult terrain.

The Association of Immunodeficient Patients of Quebec says that while many people feel society is returning to normal, that is not the case for everyone.

Marc Griffin, a Montreal-based mental health worker who suffers from an autoimmune disease, said he felt “left behind.”

“There’s a big part of us, I would say, who are on pins and needles, trying to figure out how to live our lives in a mask-free world.”

RELATED: 3 Ontario health units call for expanded masking to help deal with surge in COVID cases

Griffin said he will spend the next few weeks figuring out how to get to doctor’s appointments safely. At a minimum, he said, the province should have maintained mandatory masking for essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies.

“It’s always a calculated risk and now it’s more calculation, more talking with my doctors about what they recommend I should do,” Griffin said.

Out of respect for the most vulnerable, the province’s 1,900 pharmacies are asking customers to wear a mask when approaching drug counters. Bertrand Bolduc, president of the Order of Pharmacists of Quebec, said many customers suffer from various conditions and are deemed to be at risk for COVID-19.

“We won’t play police, but we would like people to wear a mask,” Bolduc said in an interview. “Our staff will also continue to wear it.”

Toby Lyle, owner and co-founder of the Burgundy Lion Group, which operates several bars and restaurants in Montreal, said the change in the masking rule is “definitely a relief.” He said his staff are finding it increasingly difficult to tell customers to keep their masks on.

Lyle said staff will be allowed to continue wearing masks if they wish, as will customers.

“If people decide to wear a mask, that’s fine,” Lyle said. “It’s everyone’s personal choice at that time.”

As for restaurants, a representative from an industry association said owners were happy to see another measure fall after two years of managing mandatory reservations, capacity rules and vaccine passports.

“We’re just happy that we don’t have to apply guidelines; we have no restrictions to follow, so this will allow restaurateurs to manage only one restaurant and not manage everything else,” spokesperson Martin Vézina said.

Dr André Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, said it would have been better to keep masks in place until COVID-19 indicators were lower.

“It would be great if we could keep it going a bit longer until the number of cases is much lower, but I think at the same time the goodwill of people is getting scarce and people are fed up” , Veillette said.