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The Premier of Quebec announces the end of the curfew on Monday and his back-to-school plan

Quebec’s much-maligned second curfew of the pandemic is coming to an end on Monday, Premier François Legault said as he joined key cabinet ministers in announcing an easing of certain COVID-19 measures Thursday afternoon .

Legault addressed Quebecers at a press conference Thursday afternoon, alongside Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Health Christian Dubé and Acting Director of Public Health Luc Boileau.

He also announced that schools would reopen to in-person learning on Monday, with all students wearing masks indoors. Students and educators who test positive or who have close contact with someone with COVID-19 are asked to self-isolate for five days.

WATCH | Legault says projections improve enough to end the curfew and reopen schools:

Quebec premier says pandemic projections improve enough to end curfew and reopen schools

François Legault says COVID-19-related hospitalizations could start to decline next week, news that led to the decision to lift the curfew and reopen schools on Monday. 1:57

Several CEGEPs and universities have already announced their intention to reopen later this month.

Stores in the province, ordered to close on Sunday for two weeks, will be allowed to reopen on Sunday from next week.

Legault said the province had reached an agreement with a Quebec company to purchase 70 million rapid tests for use at home by Quebecers. These tests will be distributed gradually over the coming weeks and months. Students will also receive tests within days of returning to class.

The prime minister said he hopes to reopen restaurants and concert halls soon to those who are properly vaccinated.

“We have good news today. Experts tell us new cases have peaked and the wave of hospitalizations is expected to peak in the coming days,” Legault said.

“We have to be careful. Hospitalizations are still high and could continue to rise.”

Vaccine passports in more stores

The government also decided, effective January 24, that customers will be required to show their vaccination passports when shopping at big box stores 1,500 square meters or larger, with the exception of grocery stores and pharmacies, which are considered essential services.

The 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew began almost exactly two weeks ago, drawing criticism as Legault provided little evidence that curfews are effective in slowing the transmission of the virus.

The announcement of the latest measures comes on the same day that the Institut de recherche en santé publique du Québec, the Quebec National Institute of Public Health (INSPQ), released its latest pandemic projections, which predicted a reduction in hospitalizations by the end of the month, and that new hospital admissions would peak over the next week.

The Premier of Quebec announces the end of the curfew on Monday and his back-to-school plan

However, in a Message on Twitter, The National Institute of Excellence in Health and Social Services (INESSS), the government agency that develops tools to assess the clinical and organizational performance of the health system, declined to make projections for the time being, “given the uncertainty of the data”.

Boileau, who led INESSS until the start of the week, admitted that “there is obviously still some uncertainty around the course of the pandemic”, but he said the hospitalization data was starting to show the beginnings of a plateau.

“It continues to increase, but not as strong an increase as in recent weeks,” he said.

As to the impact of a return to school on the transmission of COVID-19, Boileau said that rather than schools that promote the spread of COVID, the number of cases in schools more reflects the level of spread in the community.

“But we will be very careful,” he said.

In December, the majority of COVID-19 outbreaks occurred in elementary schools and factories.

Legault and Boileau said experts now have a better understanding of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron, which has caused the highest spike in hospitalizations in the province since the start of the pandemic, even though health officials said it usually produced a milder form of the disease. .

The Prime Minister defends the proposed tax on the unvaccinated

Legault last addressed the province on Tuesday, when he appointed Boileau to the post of interim director of public health.

Dr Horacio Arruda, who held the post for almost 12 years, tendered his resignation on Monday evening.

Arruda had been criticized for supporting Legault’s decision in early December to allow indoor gatherings of up to 20 people during the holidays, as well as for offering little evidence to support a return to a nighttime curfew , announced on New Years Eve.

He was also criticized at the end of December for saying that N95 masks were not as effective as surgical masks if they were worn incorrectly. On Thursday, Boileau said public health had determined that teachers did not need N95 masks.

The government is not backing down from a plan announced Tuesday aimed at billing unvaccinated Quebecers a “health contribution”, an amount which, according to the Prime Minister, could be taken when citizens file their income tax return.

Nearly 13% of Quebecers over the age of five have not yet received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and they represent about 46% of new intensive care admissions, according to the Ministry of Health of Quebec.

Legal and ethical experts wonder if such punitive measures are the right way to persuade people to get vaccinated.

Legault defended the proposed tax on Thursday, saying it would be “an incentive to protect [the unvaccinated] of themselves. “

The popularity of the CAQ in decline

Despite some recent missteps in his government’s response to the pandemic, Legault remains one of the Canadian prime ministers with the most popular support – although recent data collected by poll aggregation website shows that support for his party, the Coalition Avenir Québec, may have waned lately. weeks.

About 43 percent of those polled said they supported the CAQ, up from 47.4 percent in early December.

On Thursday, Legault said he was unaware of the polls when he made the decision to end the curfew.

“What we are trying to do right now is not answer the polls, but the real situation,” he said.

“I am not here to win a popularity contest, I am here to protect Quebeckers.