The French-speaking province of Quebec has issued draconian Covid lockdown orders just in time for the holiday
More than 8.5 million Canadians have been ordered to remain at home for New Year’s celebrations, with the provincial government of Quebec imposing a curfew and a ban on private gatherings amid the spread of the Omicron variant.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced the policies on Thursday, saying they will come into effect at 10pm on Friday – New Year’s Eve – while warning that a spike in coronavirus cases could overwhelm the region’s healthcare system.
“If we do nothing, there is a real risk that our hospitals will overflow over the next few weeks and that we will no longer be able to treat everyone,” he said in a tweet, later adding that officials must “act quickly” and strike a “big blow” to the virus.
The curfew will extend from 10 at night to 5am, prime hours for holiday revelry, and anybody seen outside their home during that period may be asked by authorities to explain where they are going. Violators could be fined between $1,000 and $6,000, according to local media reports.
Some exceptions were allowed for the ban on gatherings, however, including for those in need of a caregiver, or people living alone, who will be permitted to join another “family bubble.” Anyone seeking medical care, as well as “essential workers” and those traveling for “humanitarian reasons,” will also be exempt from the travel rules.
The government also suspended all indoor sports and indoor dining in Quebec on Thursday, while limiting capacity at places to worship to just 25 people, with the exception of funerals.
Though Canada boasts fairly high vaccination rates, claiming about 76% of its population is fully immunized against Covid-19, the rise of the Omicron strain has triggered alarm across much of the world, with Quebec bearing the brunt of Canada’s current outbreak. The region’s full vaccination rate is just over the national average, at nearly 78%.
Legault argued that the province is now facing its “worst” weeks so far in the pandemic, pointing to record high daily infection numbers, which are expected to exceed 16,000 on Friday alone. He acknowledged that “we’re all tired” of lockdowns, but insisted it is his “responsibility to protect” citizens in justifying the new restrictions.
Canada’s most populous province of Ontario also lowered capacity limits at some indoor venues on Thursday due to concerns over Omicron, though it did not go nearly as far as its francophone neighbor with a virtual ban on public New Year’s celebrations.