Successfully navigating the "red zone" during the second wave of COVID-19: A summary of the current situation in Quebec

12 minute read
19 October 2020

Updated As of October 27, 2020

In anticipation of the second wave of COVID-19, the Quebec government introduced four levels of alert in early September 2020: green, yellow, orange and red.

With a large part of Quebec's regions now in the "red zone", we summarize in this article the current territories covered, the main restrictions, and various forms of financial assistance announced. However, if you have a particular issue with respect to these zones, we invite you to consult a member of our COVID-19 team.

At the economic level, businesses and shops generally remain in full operation, except within certain sectors such as dining, recreation, sports and culture, which are subject to significant closures or limitations in "red zones."

"Red zone" areas

On September 28, 2020, the premier announced that several regions would be "red zones" as of October 1, 2020. Since that time, seven Ministerial Orders were adopted to extend "red zone" territories. As of October 28, 2020, a majority of Quebec's population has become subject to "red zone" restrictions.

The publication of the Order in Council 1020-2020 and the Ministerial Orders 2020-076 to 2020-082 confirms that the state of maximum alert ("red zones") applies to the following territories:

  • The territory of the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC) (this includes certain municipalities located in the Laurentides and Lanaudière health regions that are detailed below)[1]
  • The Laval health region
  • The Montérégie health region, including municipalities that are not part of the MMC
  • In the Lanaudière health Region, the MRC Les Moulins, the MRC L'Assomption, the MRC of Joliette and the MRC of Autray
  • In the Laurentides health region, the MRC of La Rivière-du-Nord, the MRC Thérèse-De Blainville and the City of Mirabel as well as portions of the MRC of Deux-Montagnes that are part of the MMC
  • The Capitale-Nationale health region
  • In the Outaouais health region, the City of Gatineau and the MRC of Collines-de-l'Outaouais
  • The Centre-du-Québec and The Mauricie health regions
  • The Chaudière-Appalaches health region (except for the MRCs of Les Etchemins, Montmagny and L'Islet)
  • In the Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine health region, the territories of Ville de Carleton-sur-Mer and the municipalities of Maria and Nouvelle.

Prohibition of indoor or outdoor gatherings

The Order in Council 1020-2020 provides that gatherings in private residences or in their equivalent (including outdoor grounds) are prohibited. The only people allowed in a private residence are those who live there. That said, the Order in Council provides that individuals who live alone may receive one visitor from another address. Furthermore, the prohibition does not preclude any person in a private residence from receiving or offering services or support.

The Order in Council 1020-2020 also prohibits any gathering in an outdoor public place, although the term "gathering" is not defined. At a press conference on October 1, 2020, National Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda provided the following definition: "individuals who will gather in a place to achieve the same objective." Dr. Arruda's personal definition, which is not legally binding, is similar to the common definition of "gathering," which means a meeting of people for a particular purpose. [2]

Although the wording used in the Order in Council 1020-2020 implies that any gathering in an outdoor public place would be prohibited, the government website states that "in red zones, you can go for a walk in a public place with someone who does not live in the same household, although it is not recommended. Where possible, physical distancing of 2 metres must be observed at all times with people who do not live at the same address." [3]

In addition, demonstrations are still permitted. However, wearing a face covering and maintaining a distance of two metres between demonstrators is mandatory.

Suspension of sports and recreational activities

The Order in Council 1039-2020 suspends all indoor and outdoor sports and recreational activities in "red zones" as of October 8, 2020, with the following exceptions:

  • Activities performed "unsupervised," individually or in pairs, provided that participants maintain a distance of two metres between each other at all times
  • Activities carried out by the occupants of the same private residence or its equivalent

Closure and restrictions for certain businesses

The Orders-in-Council 1020-2020 and 1039-2020 also provide for the suspension of activities in red zones of the following businesses:

  • Restaurants and food courts in shopping malls, except for deliveries, take-out or drive-through orders
  • Bars and nightclubs
  • Microbreweries and distilleries, only for their services of on-site consumption of food and drink
  • Casinos and gambling houses
  • Museums, biodomes, planetariums, insectariums, botanical gardens, aquariums and zoos
  • Arcades, amusement centres and parks, as well as water parks
  • Saunas and spas, except personal care provided therein
  • Libraries, other than those in educational institutions, with the exception of lending desks
  • Movie theatres and halls in which performing arts are presented, including venues where the material is broadcast
  • Youth hostels
  • Fitness centres

Currently, the government has indicated its intention to avoid a return to general reconfinement and wishes to keep businesses, shops and schools open.


Educational institutions are also required to reduce by 50 per cent of the number of hours devoted to classroom educational services for students in Secondary 4 and 5. In order to fulfill the requirements of the study programs, distance educational services must be provided to these students. On October 27, 2020, the government announced that this measure will be extended to Secondary 3 as of November 2, 2020.

As for colleges and universities, they will have to favour distance learning to provide instruction, unless a particular educational activity requires students be present in class, including for example, laboratory research and internships.

Financial assistance

The Quebec government announced it will be implementing an Assistance for Businesses in Regions Under Maximum Alert. This program provides for the reimbursement of certain eligible expenses for companies operating in "red zones" that must suspend their operations for a period of more than 10 days due to a Ministerial Order. In practical terms, these businesses will be able to obtain a loan forgiveness covering 80 per cent of eligible fixed operating costs. This amount is capped at $15,000 per month of closure.

Eligible fixed operating costs are as follows:

  • Municipal and school taxes
  • Rent (the portion not covered by another government program)
  • Interest paid on mortgage loans
  • Electricity and gas
  • Insurance
  • Telecommunication costs
  • Association fees and licenses

In addition, since the announcement of the restrictions affecting certain economic sectors, the government has announced several financial assistance programs for specific sectors impacted by the closures and restrictions, particularly for the sports and cultural industries, as well as for bars and restaurants.[4]

Inter-regional travel

Government authorities strongly recommend that people living in a "red zone" limit their inter-regional travel in green, yellow or orange zones, as well as outside Québec. The Order in Council does not currently provide for any statutory prohibition in this regard.

However, the Order in Council 1020-2020 provides that the rules applicable in a "red zone" continue to apply to residents of that territory when they travel outside it. Thus, a citizen from a "red zone" who cannot eat in a restaurant on their territory would not be able to eat in a restaurant in a yellow or orange zone. The Order in Council does provide, however, an exception for people who travel to another territory to study, work or practice their profession.

Some police forces have deployed roadblocks to raise awareness among citizens of the need to limit travel between regions of different colours. While not mandatory at this time, it may be advisable for employers to provide their employees with a "letter of passage" to facilitate their travel and aid in discussions with police at checkpoints.

Duration of the restrictions

The government authorities initially stated that the restrictions affecting "red zones" would be in place from October 1, 2020 to October 28, 2020. On October 26, 2020, the Quebec government extended the application of these measures until November 23, 2020. However, it is important to note that no Order in Council or Ministerial Order provides any indication of the duration of the restriction in "red zones."

Penalties and sanctions

Section 139 of the Public Health Act outlines penalties ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 for persons who refuse to obey an order that the Minister is entitled to give. The government also announced that police officers will be able to issue tickets, and will be able to obtain tele-warrants so that they can quickly and efficiently issue statements of offence to citizens who refuse to comply with these new health measures.

[1] View the territories on the CMM website by clicking here.

[2] Oxford Learner's Dictionaries, online, word "gathering" (consulted on October 20, 2020)

[3] Government website, under the question "Can I go for walk with someone who does not live in my home in a red zone?" (consulted on October 28, 2020)

[4] On October 2, 2020, the government announced $50 million in financial assistance for the cultural sector. This measure will be in effect for a period of six months, from October 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021. The government will reimburse 75 per cent of the difference between actual revenues and the average ticket revenues that cultural organizations would normally have received if their performances are cancelled, postponed or take place before a limited number of audience members. Museums will also receive an additional $5 million in funding.

Additionally, on October 15, 2020, the government announced $70 million in financial support for sports federations and organizations. This assistance is a 60% increase over the programs already in place to provide financial support to sports federations and organizations.

Finally, on October 16, 2020, the government announced financial compensation estimated at $5.3 million to businesses that sell alcohol for on-site consumption. This new assistance measure is aimed at business-owners holding a permit authorizing the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption, and will directly reduce the annual licensing fee by an amount equivalent to a four-month payment.

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