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What About Quebec Bars? The Public Health Director Explained Why They're Still Closed

Quebec has begun what the government has promised will be a slow reopening process after the latest semi-lockdown. Restaurants reopened on January 31. Cinemas and concert halls will reopen on February 7. Gyms and spas will follow on February 14. Quebec bars, meanwhile, are still waiting for their reopening date after more than a month of closure.

In a press conference on February 2, interim National Public Health Director Dr. Luc Boileau stopped short of offering even a vague reopening timeline but did give some insight into the decision to keep bars closed.

Despite the public anticipation and the benefits to quality of life, he said, officials still aren't willing to risk the increase in physical contacts and infections that bars would inevitably enable.

"The experience that we have in Quebec and internationally [...] shows us that in bars it's more difficult to see a reduction in contacts," especially given the presence and effects of alcohol, Boileau explained.

The public health director said officials are currently conducting risk management assessments, weighing the occupancy levels and condition of care in the province's hospitals against residents' mental and physical well-being.

It's unclear where exactly bars fall in that hierarchy of risky activities and settings, but Boileau's reluctance to give any indication of when they might open — despite encouraging hospitalization projections — is perhaps telling.

A forecast from the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) shows total COVID-19 hospitalizations outside of ICUs dropping to 1,800 in the first half of February, down from 2,526 on February 1.

Boileau said the projections show Quebec is on the right path but was still seemingly unwilling to predict the pace of the COVID-19 measure relaxations even beyond mid-February.

He cited the INSPQ's own projections showing a risk of an uptick in cases through February following the latest health rule changes.

He only assured that "if we continue in the same direction that we've had for several weeks [...] things will continue to go well."

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