Curfew starts in Quebec, COVID case numbers soar

Curfew starts, cases soar

UPDATE: 2:35 p.m.

COVID-19 case numbers continued to soar in many parts of Canada on Saturday as Quebec prepared to become the first province to impose a curfew on its residents.

Premier Francois Legault announced earlier this week that Quebecers will have to stay home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in an effort to prevent people from gathering in defiance of public health guidelines.

The measures will last at least four weeks and apply to everyone except essential workers, people walking their dogs and a short list of other exceptions, with violators facing stiff fines.

In a Facebook message, Legault said the province's hospitals were approaching a "tipping point" where it would be forced to delay treatment for all but the most urgent cases.

He said the curfew would help stop "even the smallest" gatherings.

"It's the sum of all these little infringements of the rules that feed the virus," he wrote.

The province broke the 3,000-case mark for the first time on Saturday, joining Ontario, which has recorded such numbers for weeks.

Ontario has delayed the return to in-person classes in parts of the province to slow the spread, prompting the education minister to announce Saturday that more workers would be eligible for free child-care.

Stephen Lecce said RCMP officers, custodial and clerical education workers and postal staff would be among the expanded list of essential workers deemed eligible for the measure designed to help parents who need to work while their children attend classes remotely until at least Jan. 25.

Further east, New Brunswick also reported one of the highest single-day increases since the onset of the pandemic, with 30 new cases of COVID-19 spread across the province.

In a statement, Canada's chief public health officer said the virus was continuing to gain steam.

"With the current momentum of the epidemic and continued high rates of infection in many areas of the country, rapid accumulation of cases will continue until we can make significant progress in interrupting spread," Dr. Theresa Tam wrote.

She urged Canadians to keep following public health advice to limit the spread of COVID-19 while the vaccination effort ramps up.

ORIGINAL: 7 a.m.

Quebecers out in the street after 8 p.m. tonight can expect to be questioned by police as a month-long curfew comes into effect to control the spread of COVID-19.

The province announced earlier this week that the curfew will be in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., except for those who fall into certain exempted categories, such as essential workers.

Deputy Premier Genevieve Guilbault said earlier this week that the measure is designed to make it easier to catch people who are intent on gathering, in violation of current health orders.

She said in a tweet that the province will send out an emergency alert this afternoon to remind Quebecers of the curfew, and that police will be more visible on the streets over the weekend.

The curfew comes as Quebec's COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise and hospitals say they're filling up and risk becoming overwhelmed.

It will last at least four weeks, until Feb. 8, and violators could face fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000.

Some public health experts have said they believe the curfew will help to reduce people's contacts and send a message about the seriousness of the pandemic.

But others have questioned whether the measure will be effective, and have expressed concerns it will lead to excessive ticketing of people who are vulnerable or homeless.

Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said this week that while he can't provide proof the curfew will work, it's part of a series of measures aimed at reducing the possibility of gatherings and of contact between people. “There’s no science that can tell you what measure will have what percentage effect,” he told reporters.

Under the rules, grocery stores and convenience stores will have to close at 7:30 p.m. in order to allow workers and customers to get home. Stores connected to gas stations can stay open to serve essential workers.

The province has also shut down places of worship for all but small funerals, tightened mask-wearing rules for schools, and has extended the closure of non-essential businesses until at least Feb. 8.

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