COVID-19: Quebec Tightens Public Health Measures for the Holidays

7 minute read
16 December 2020

This article was last updated on December 16, 2020

On December 15, 2020 in Montreal, Premier François Legault, Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé and National Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda held a press conference to announce new public health restrictions, as well as the easing of a few measures currently in place, effectively putting the Province of Quebec on a "holiday break" until January 11 (which was later clarified to mean January 10 inclusively).[1]

Please note that, as of the date of this article, the ministerial order(s) dealing with the public health restrictions detailed below had not yet been published at the Gazette officielle du Québec.

New Measures in Effect from Thursday, December 17, 2020 until Sunday, January 10, 2021 inclusively:

  • Mandatory teleworking for office employees: Employees will be required to work remotely, except in particular situations where an employee's presence is necessary for business activities to continue. This measure applies to both the public and private sectors.
  • Elementary and secondary schools: Elementary and secondary schools will remain closed . For elementary schools, this adds approximately one week of staying at home to what had been previously announced. The extended break for school-age children will include homework and remote learning.
  • Daycare centres: Daycares will remain open but the government is calling on all parents who are able to keep their children at home to do so.
  • School-based childcare: School-based childcare will only be available for children of workers in priority sectors.

Additional Measures Affecting Businesses from Friday, December 25, 2020 until Sunday, January 10, 2021 inclusively

  • Closing of non-essential businesses: the Premier announced that all non-essential businesses will be closed. Businesses allowed to stay open will include garages, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores and pet stores. 
    • The Premier announced that a list of essential businesses would be made available shortly. It is updated regularly and is now available on the government's website.
    • The concept of "essential services" is more restrictive than it was in the Spring, according to Minister Dubé.
    • The manufacturing sector remains open for this time period and the construction sector is already on a two-week break until January 3.
    • At the press conference, it was stated that non-essential businesses would be able to continue to sell through curbside pick-up. We note that, according to the government's website made available since then, curbside pickup appears to now be limited to essential businesses.
  • Ban on the sale of non-essential goods: The premier also announced that, in fairness to Quebec businesses, big-box stores will be banned from selling non-essential goods. The government's website has since clarified that this type of ban also applies to other types of stores, such as hardware stores.
    • For example, a big-box store will be allowed to keep its food and drugstore areas open, but will not be allowed to sell furniture or appliances.
    • CNESST inspectors and police forces will be more present in big-box stores to specifically ensure they do not sell "non-essential" products. A request to this effect has already been made by the government.
  • Personal care services: Hair salons, nail salons and spas will also be closed.
    • That said, chiropractors, dentists and optometrists will remain open as they provide essential care.

Updated Alert Levels from Thursday, December 17, 2020 until Sunday, January 10, 2021:

  • Areas in the "yellow" alert level will be upgraded to the "orange" alert level for the holidays.
    • As such, the Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Nunavik and Côte Nord regions will change their alert level from yellow to orange. 
  • Regions that are at the "orange" alert level will change to the "red" alert level for the holidays. As a result, restaurant dining rooms will be closed as of December 17.
    • As such, the Gaspésie region is changing its alert level from orange to red.

Easing of a Few Public Health Measures:

For the holiday season, the government wants to allow Quebecers to remain active and exercise. Thus, following discussions with public health, certain health measures will be eased.

  • Outdoor activities: Public health  gave its consent for certain outdoor winter sports activities to be permitted during the winter season, such as hockey and skiing, for parties of up to eight people plus a coach or instructor. It is important that participants stay 2 metres apart during these activities, whether they are organized or not.
  • Outdoor sites: Outdoor sites, such as the Botanical Garden, will be open during the holiday season to allow Quebecers to remain active.
  • People living alone: People who live alone will be allowed to join a single family bubble (one address) during the holidays, contrary to what has previously been announced. That having been said, the Premier emphasized that a person living alone may only join a single family bubble in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Wage Subsidies:

  • The Premier announced the rent assistance program remains in place for businesses and stores.
  • Furthermore, discussions took place with the federal government to have salaries paid by the federal government. Thus, it would appear that one of the two weeks of closure will be paid by the federal government and that discussions are still ongoing regarding the second week of closure.

In conclusion, the Premier stated that this "holiday break" will help to slow the spread of the virus, "break" the second wave, give healthcare workers a rest, and, in the end, to allow for the implementation of a reopening plan and reduce the number of hospitalizations by the beginning of 2021. The Premier added that he is hopeful that these additional measures can be withdrawn on January 11, and plans to provide an update on January 5 with a view to confirm as such.

[1] Following the December 15 press conference, the updated official Quebec government website clarified that the measures that were announced would be in effect until January 10 inclusively.

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