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Quebec premier announces end to curfew Monday, back-to-school plan

Quebec’s much-maligned second curfew of the pandemic is coming to an end Monday, said Premier François Legault as he joined key cabinet ministers to announce a relaxing of some COVID-19 measures Thursday afternoon.

Legault addressed Quebecers in a news conference that began at 3 p.m. alongside Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, Health Minister Christian Dubé and interim Public Health Director Luc Boileau. 

He also announced that schools will be reopening to in-person learning Monday, with all students wearing masks indoors.

Several CEGEPs and universities have already announced that they plan to reopen later this month.

Stores in the province, ordered to close on Sundays for the past two weeks, will be allowed to reopen on Sundays as of next week. 

Legault said the province has brokered a deal with a Quebec company to purchase 70 million rapid tests for at-home use by Quebecers. Those tests will be distributed gradually over the coming weeks and months.

The premier said he hoped to reopen restaurants and concert venues shortly to those who are adequately vaccinated.

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

The announcement of the latest measures come on the same day that Quebec’s public health research institute, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), released its latest pandemic projections. 

The INSPQ predicts a reduction in hospitalizations by the end of the month, with new hospital admissions peaking sometime next week. 

CAQ’s popularity waning

Legault last addressed the province on Tuesday, when he named Boileau, the former head of the province’s public health-care research institute, L’Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS), to the post of interim public health director. 

Dr. Horacio Arruda, who had held the position since 2012, handed in his letter of resignation Monday evening. 

Arruda had been criticized for supporting Legault’s move in early December to allow indoor gatherings of up to 20 people over the holidays, as well as for offering little evidence to back a return to an overnight curfew, announced the day before New Year’s Eve. 

He also came under fire at the end of December for saying N95 masks were not as efficient as surgical masks if worn improperly.

The premier also said Tuesday he intended to charge unvaccinated Quebecers a “health contribution” — an amount he said might be added when people filed their income tax. Legault did not provide further details.

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

Legal and ethics experts question whether such a punitive measure is the right way to persuade people to get immunized.

Legault remains one of the Canadian premiers with the most popular support, though recent data collected by the polling aggregation website Qc125.org show support for his party, Coalition Avenir Québec, appears to have declined.

About 43 per cent of those surveyed said they support the CAQ, compared to 47.4 per cent in early December.

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