As part of a long list of new Quebec COVID-19 rules, high school, cegep and university students won't return to in-person learning until January 10 following their winter breaks.
High schools previously scheduled to reopen in the week of January 3 will have to return to remote learning between then and January 10, Premier François Legault said.
Cegeps and universities previously scheduled to resume classes after January 10 following the winter break will of course be able to stick to those dates.
Elementary schools, meanwhile, will reopen as scheduled, even if that's before January 10. Legault said keeping elementary schools open has been a priority for his government and, moreover, that in-person attendance supports the vaccination campaign for children.
Among the other new health measures announced Thursday is a 50% capacity limit in bars, restaurants, stores and other venues, as well as a ban on karaoke and dancing. These rules will take effect on Monday, December 20.
The government is also cancelling plans to expand private gathering capacity to 20 fully-vaccinated people as of December 23. Instead, Quebecers will only be able to have a total of 10 people in their homes for the upcoming holidays.
"I know Quebecers are sick of this," Legault said at a press conference.
"Since the start, for 21 months, Quebec has been one of the places where the restrictions have been the most severe. We’re going to continue to do this. We’ll continue to make sure we react quickly. We put our pride aside."
National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda also sympathized with burnt-out residents.
"We do understand that people are tired," he added.
"The problem is the virus is not tired and it's coming back. And this is a problem and it's the epidemiology that makes us take those decisions that we don't like. We would prefer to be in another situation, but the virus is still fighting us."
In its January 20 report, Quebec reported a decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time in weeks. There were a total of 3,411 COVID-19 hospital patients, 14 fewer than the day before. 285 people were in intensive care — that number remained unchanged.
The January 20 daily report comes as the Institut national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) releases its latest hospital occupancy projections. The institute noted that though hospitalizations are still high, they seem to have plateaued between January 8 and 14.
In the next two weeks, the INESSS projects the number of new patients admitted to a hospital every day will drop to around 200 (Quebec reported 352 new hospitalizations on January 20). Total hospitalizations, meanwhile, will drop to "about 3,000," according to the forecast — "still well above the level 4" occupancy level "recently defined by the Ministry of Health," the INESSS says.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is also expected to stabilize.
The INESSS notes, however, that these projections don't take into account changes in health measures, nor the potential effects of the reopening of Quebec elementary and high schools on January 17.
The province also tallied 6,528 new COVID-19 cases on January 20, though official case counts are inaccurate since PCR tests are no longer available to the general public.
There were 98 more deaths linked to the disease.
Premier François Legault is set to hold a press conference Thursday afternoon alongside Health Minister Christian Dubé and interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau.
This article’s cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.
The government of Quebec announced a new initiative to meet current and future labour needs in the childhood education services network. The plan, titled "opération main-d'œuvre," aims to recruit thousands of educators, in part through a student scholarship program offering up to $9,000.
The Minister of Families, Mathieu Lacombe, and the Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, Jean Boulet, revealed the new measures as part of a $300 million government investment to enlist more people in the profession.
Starting September 2022, any CEGEP student enrolled full-time in an early childhood education program (Techniques d'éducation à l'enfance) is eligible to receive a $1,500 scholarship per completed semester, which represents a total of $9,000 for the entirety of the program, according to a press release.
The Quebec government launched "opération main-d'œuvre" on November 30, 2021, in order to meet increasing labour demands in health care, social services, education, and childcare.
In a statement, Lacombe said the new measures represent "concrete action to attract new people to this exceptional and above all essential profession for our children, but also for society as a whole."
Op\u00e9ration main-d\u2019\u0153uvre\n\nDes mesures sont annonc\u00e9es pour recruter 18 000 nouvelles \u00e9ducatrices et nouveaux \u00e9ducateurs, en plus d\u2019en qualifier 7 000 autres d\u00e9j\u00e0 en poste dans le r\u00e9seau actuel d\u2019ici 2026. \n\nhttp://bit.ly/3IdgpL3\u00a0pic.twitter.com/yqm7C5ZFt2
— Famille Qu\u00e9bec (@Famille Qu\u00e9bec)
The Quebec government is set to recruit 18,000 new educators, in addition to re-qualifying 7,000 child care workers already in the field; a goal they plan to reach by 2026.
Minister Jean Boulet assured the public that he is "convinced that with all the means deployed, in particular the many support measures for training and skills development from the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, we will achieve our goal."
The government also announced plans to encourage retired and experienced workers to return to the field by offering a 6.6% salary bump until March 2023.
According to a new study conducted by Maru Public Opinion, 27% of Quebecers would approve of forcing the unvaccinated to "serve up to five days as part of a jail sentence for endangering others/overwhelming health care system," which is in line with the national average.
More than half of Quebecers (55%) surveyed wouldn't even feel bad for unvaccinated people who end up really sick — or dying — from COVID-19, also in line with the Canadian average. Currently, 12% of Quebecers surveyed admit to refusing the vaccine.
Maru contacted 1,506 Canadians — including 387 Quebecers — between January 14 and 15 for this survey. They note that "for comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20."
The reasons cited in the study for avoiding the vaccine were varied, ranging from the understandable to the ludicrous. Civil liberty was a concern for many: 45% of unvaccinated Canadians claimed they are defending their right to make their own choices, and 22% say they just don't like the government telling them what to do.
Fear seems to be another strong motivator: 42% of unvaccinated Canadians claimed to be waiting for more data about the vaccine's safety, and 28% said they're anxious or scared of the effects the vaccine may have.
32% of unvaccinated Canadians, meanwhile, simply said that their immune system could beat the virus if they got it, so they don't need a vaccine.
Misinformation and conspiracy theories have also contributed to anti-vax sentiments. 21% said they're concerned that the vaccine will affect their genetic structure. 9% still think that COVID-19 is a hoax, while 7% believe the vaccine is just a ploy to keep drug companies rich and 4% think it's a global conspiracy to control those who get it. 3% think the vaccine will give them COVID-19.
Finally, only 1% of unvaccinated Canadians claimed it was against their religion to get the vaccine.
On the other end of the spectrum, 67% of Quebecers think that the vaccine should be mandatory, which is just above the national average of 66%. 78% of people in Quebec support the provincial government's decision to require a vaccine passport to enter the SAQ, the SQDC and large stores. And amid the controversy, 66% of Quebecers support an anti-vax tax.
The strain on our health care system remains a concern for Quebecers. 60% of respondents think the unvaccinated should pay out of pocket for any medical assistance they need due to COVID-19, and 35% believe the unvaccinated shouldn't be treated in public health care facilities at all.
"We need to be careful to not give more reasons to encourage these individuals to not respect the rules," said Dubé.
"It's not for nothing that we're talking about prioritization protocols for hospitals," he said, referring to the government's planning to deal with beds filled beyond capacity and staffing shortages caused by the Omicron wave. "The situation in hospitals, if people haven't understood, is we've reached the end of the line."
Last week, a handful of Montreal restaurants, including Kesté and Cafeteria Europa, announced that they would open on January 30 at full capacity. That plan is in protest of "arbitrary measures that have been proven not to be effective in solving the issue we are all faced with," according to an Instagram post.
But Dubé said things need to happen in a certain order.
"We have to take control of the situation, notably hospitals, before discussing reopenings," the health minister explained on Tuesday.
"At the same time, I want to say to those people that you have a reason to be upset," Dubé said. "We all have reason to be upset [...] but at the same time, it would be disappointing to let go [of rules] where there could be, in a few days, a stabilization of cases and eventually, a reduction. Before opening your restaurant, think about the workers in hospitals, where we're missing 12,000 workers."
Dubé declined to provide a timeline or a sense of what might reopen next when the government begins to remove restrictions, reiterating that the situation in hospitals needed to be under control first.
"I understand you're frustrated, but think about the workers and the health network [...] we want to reopen, but wait a little bit."