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Quebec eases COVID 19 measures in some areas, says wider reopening will have to wait

Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks at a news conference after a CAQ government pre-session caucus, Friday, September 11, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

MONTREAL _ Quebec’s premier on Tuesday said he will lift emergency measures in some parts of the province next week but said vaccination rates have to be higher before a wider return to normal life is possible.

The situation has improved enough in most of the Quebec City area to lift the special emergency measures imposed at the beginning of April, Francois Legault told reporters.

High schools and stores can reopen next Monday and the nighttime curfew will be pushed back to 9:30 p.m. from 8 p.m. in the region, including Quebec City, Levis, Bellechasse and Montmagny-L’Islet.

Parts of Chaudiere-Appalaches, located south of Quebec City, and Outaouais in western Quebec will move to the red pandemic-alert level, under which non-essential businesses and high schools can reopen.

While Quebec’s cases and hospitalizations have been stable in recent weeks, Legault said it was too soon to consider a wider reopening because the majority of Quebecers have yet to receive a first dose of vaccine.

“We continue to vaccinate more every day and we’re getting closer to normal lives, but if we want to get there, we must lift the restrictions gradually and at least 75 per cent of Quebecers over 18 years old need to be vaccinated,” he said.

Later in the news conference, however, Legault said reopening also depended on other factors such as hospitalizations, adding he hoped to lift some restrictions before the 75 per cent target is reached.

The province has vaccinated just under 38 per cent of Quebecers with at least one dose. Vaccine appointments are available to members of the general public who are 45 and up, with the age limit set to drop by five years every few days.

Earlier on Tuesday, Quebec health officials unveiled the city’s first drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site in a parking lot at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport. Health Minister Christian Dube was on hand as regional health authorities demonstrated how people will be vaccinated without leaving their car.

The operation is expected to be running by May 17, administering 4,000 shots per day, and it could serve as a blueprint for similar sites elsewhere in the province.

Dube said people are eager to get vaccinated, and each time the province opens a new age eligibility, appointments are quickly scooped up. With two million Pfizer-BioNTech doses expected in May alone, Dube urged as many Quebecers as possible to get a shot this month.

“If we can vaccinate two million people in May, it means we could accelerate the second dose, which was due after June,” Dube told reporters at the airport.

Dube later reported on Twitter that across Quebec, 75 per cent of people age 55 to 59 have made appointments for their first doses, meeting the province’s target for the age group. He said, however, Montreal was still 10,000 bookings short of the goal.

Quebec reported 797 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday as well as 16 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Hospitalizations increased by six, to 594, while the number of people in intensive care rose by four, to 155.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2021.