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Quebec eases restrictions in some regions, maintains Montreal at highest alert level

Quebec Premier Francois Legault pauses during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

MONTREAL – Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday he is maintaining restrictions in the Montreal area because public health authorities fear a novel coronavirus variant will soon cause rising case numbers and hospitalizations in the region.

But for residents of Quebec City and several other parts of the province, starting March 8 they will be able to eat in restaurants and go to gyms, Legault told reporters. The capital area and four other regions will move to the lower, “orange” pandemic-alert level, he said, adding that the nighttime curfew in those areas will be pushed back from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Greater Montreal and the neighbouring Laurentians and Lanaudiere regions will not see any change, as residents will continue to be forbidden from leaving their homes after 8 p.m. Legault said public health officials told him “in the next weeks there will be an increase in cases and hospitalizations” due to the B.1.1.7. variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

“We can’t in that situation change the (pandemic-alert level),” Legault said of Montreal.

Health officials reported 729 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 19 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two that occurred in the previous 24 hours. Officials said hospitalizations dropped by 10, to 618, while the number of people in intensive care dropped by one, to 120.

Legault said cases have “stabilized” in the Montreal area, which he said was a sign that the U.K. variant could cause infections and COVID-19-related hospitalizations to rise.

Earlier Wednesday, Montreal’s public health director said she expects the U.K. mutation to become the predominant form of the virus spreading in the city. “We know it’s going to happen,” Dr. Mylene Drouin told reporters.

She said 15 per cent of new cases in the city are linked to variants, up from 12 per cent last week. There are 43 outbreaks in schools linked to mutations, Drouin said, adding that most of those outbreaks are small. School-age children and their parents account for the majority of all new cases in the city, she said.

While the number of new cases reported daily in the city remains stable, the spread of variants could change that. “We may be seeing a third wave in front of us,” Drouin said.

Meanwhile, Quebec’s statistics agency said Wednesday that life expectancy in Quebec dropped in 2020 due to an increase in deaths linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. For men in Quebec, average life expectancy dropped by five months, to 80.6 years, and dropped by eight months for women, to 84 years, the Institut de la statistique du Quebec reported.

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of deaths reported in Quebec rose by 10 per cent –or 6,750 fatalities; there were 74,550 deaths reported in the province in 2020. That’s compared to an average rise in deaths of 2 per cent a year between 2010 and 2019 –due to population growth and an aging population

The agency says that during the same 10-year period, life expectancy rose by an average of 2.3 months a year for men and 1.5 months a year for women.

Health officials said 16,117 doses of vaccine were administered Tuesday, for a total of 472,710. Quebec has 7,336 active reported infections and has reported a total of 289,670 COVID-19 cases and 10,426 deaths linked to the virus.

Legault said Wednesday that health officials would wait up to four months before administering a second dose of vaccine, up from the current 90-day interval.