Quebec Premier François Legault laid out his government’s reopening plans for the next few weeks  culminating in the lifting of almost all measures by March 14th. Mask mandates and vaccine passport requirements will remain in effect for some time following that date.

Legault made the announcement at an early afternoon press conference joined by accompanied by Minister of Health Christian Dubé and Interim National Director of Public Health Dr. Luc Boileau. The Premier noted thar some regulations are turning into recommendations and that we will have to “learn to live with” COVID.

Here’s the timetable:

February 12: This Saturday, there will be no restrictions on home visits. The current rule of no more than ten people or three households will become a recommendation. Restaurants will be allowed to seat 10 people or the members of three households at the same table. Caregivers with valid vaccine passports will be able to visit loved ones living in group homes.

February 14: Gyms, spas, climbing gyms and indoor golf facilities can reopen at 50% capacity. Indoor sports and recreational activities can resume, but tournaments and competitions can’t yet. Locker room capacity will be limited to 50%.

February 21: Theatres, showrooms and ampitheatres (including the Bell Centre) will be able to re-open at 50% capacity while stores can be at 100% capacity. Places of worship will be able to accommodate up to 500 people.

February 28: Bars and casinos can re-open at 50% capacity with the previous sanitary regulations in place and no dancing or karaoke. Showrooms, except for the Bell Centre and Videotron Centre, can open at 100% capacity along with places of worship. Working remotely whenever possible will turn from a rule to a recommendation. Competitions and tournaments can resume.

March 14: Restaurants and bars are back at 100% capacity with karaoke and dancing once again permitted. Same with showrooms and large venues like the Bell Centre.

Restaurant dining areas in Quebec can re-open at 50% capacity and home visits of up to four people or two households are once again allowed as of this Monday, January 31st. The following Monday, February 7, cinema, theatres and places of worship can reopen, also at 50% capacity.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement in an early afternoon press conference joined by Health Minister Christian Dubé and Interim National Director of Public Health Dr. Luc Boileau.

Legault specified that restaurants would also have to observe a four person or two household limit per table. Theatres, including ampitheatres like the Bell Centre, will also be limited to 500 people max per room.

The Premier added that Montreal’s Biodôme, Planetarium and Botanical Gardens along with ski chalets and cafeterias will also open on the 31st at 50% capacity. The same day, elementary, high school, CEGEP and university team sports can resume. The vaccine passport will be required for all these places and activities (for those 13 yeas old and up in the case of team sports).

Bars, gyms and spas aren’t included in these first two phases of reopening. Legault mentioned spas and gyms when talking about the third phase but the timeframe for bars remains unclear.

François Legault is a lot of things: he’s a millionaire, he’s a baby boomer, and he is a populist. He is also one of the few premiers to not need Montreal votes in order to end up in office, and the first anti-union Premier in Quebec since the bigoted and dictatorial Maurice Duplessis. Legault’s biggest crime as premier, however, is prioritizing the financial interests of wealthy baby boomers over the lives and safety of younger generations, and nowhere is this clearer than in Legault’s back-to-school plan.

We are still very much in the throes of a fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Right before the December holidays Quebec had a massive spike in cases due to the highly infectious Omicron variant for which Montreal schools accounted for nearly half of all outbreaks.

Numbers seem to have dropped over the holidays, but this is clearly not just because cases are being underreported due to the limited ability of home testing to detect of Omicron, and insane lineups to get an in-person test due to the highly infectious nature of this variant. It’s also because the kids have not been in school.

As I write this, it is the day before elementary and high-school students are required to return to in-person schooling, a plan for which Legault and his cronies in government are utterly inflexible. (ed’s note: the snow ended up cancelling many classes that the government did not)

“I think the government is putting on the illusion of caring for the kids, but really their motivation is money,” said “A”, a mother of two whose children are expected to return like all other Quebec kids on January 17, 2022. “They want parents back at work at all costs,” she said, adding that she is “f*cking scared to send them back.”

A is not the only one afraid to send her kids back. X is a teacher and mother of three, one of whom has severe, non-verbal Down’s syndrome. She says that since public health measures have been put in place over the last two years, her daughter – whose condition makes her especially vulnerable to lung and sinus infections – has been less sick than she has ever been in her life. X would rather her special needs child not get Omicron given the lack of research into how the variant will affect her morphology.

“She catches everything,” X says, knowing that when her sons, who attend regular elementary and high schools catch anything, her daughter will most likely get sick. Unlike other kids, her daughter cannot communicate symptoms like a sore throat, so her mother would only know to get her tested if she’s alerted by her school or shows visible signs of illness.

The child’s special needs also make it harder for her to address basic self-care, such as regularly drinking fluids so she doesn’t get dehydrated. That said, if given a choice between in-person schooling and online learning, X expresses distaste for online learning given the disastrous effect it has had on her sons’ mental health.

X is one of the few to propose an alternative to online learning and in-person schooling that the Quebec government seems to have willfully avoided considering: providing parents with homeschooling materials or even giving kids a break from schooling entirely, at least until the current wave passes.

“All this back and forth? What’s the point?” she asks, referring to the constant cycle of school closures and re-openings in response to the regular outbreaks in schools doing in person learning.

Carolyn Gehr, a high school math teacher with the English Montreal School Board, has concerns of her own, pointing out that there are currently no class bubbles in place, so you can have hundreds of unmasked kids in the hallways and cafeterias over lunchtime.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” she says, adding that the government’s plan to call in parents to supervise classrooms when teachers are out with COVID cheapens the teaching profession, making them seem like “nothing more than glorified babysitters,”

“A” feels that none of the government’s decisions are based on the current science regarding COVID and the Omicron variant.

“It’s not a very good idea to send them back with even less rules about isolation and contacts. I won’t know if my kids have been in contact with a positive case and they could very well bring COVID to their aging grandparents, who despite being triple vaccinated, can still get severely ill,”

It’s no coincidence that this back to school plan will primarily affect working-aged adults while many wealthy Baby Boomers have the luxury of working from home or are retiring in droves and can therefore stay home safe from Omicron.

This is the not the first time the government’s COVID plan has put Gen X and younger generations in mortal danger either. Past vaccination campaigns that prioritized people with chronic illnesses with the over 65 camp, younger people with diseases such as diabetes that put them at a higher risk of developing complications from the virus were considered a lower priority for the COVID vaccine than Baby Boomers in perfect health. This is an issue that I raised on multiple occasions in interviews with CBC Radio last year.

François Legault’s actions are not the ones of a man ‘doing his best’ as many wealthy members of his generation believe. They’re the actions of someone who doesn’t care how many young people he kills in order to keep himself and his cohort rich and comfortable.

Legault is up for re-election this October and it would be wise of younger people across in Quebec to recognize his actions as those of a man who prioritizes pocketbooks over people and elect someone who will be more responsible with the health of ALL Quebeckers instead.

Featured Image of a painting by Samantha Gold

Quebec’s first pandemic curfew lasted for a few months in early 2021, the second one will last just over two weeks. It started on New Year’s Eve and ends Monday (January 17th).

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement at a mid-afternoon press conference joined by Health Minister Christian Dubé, interim National Director of Public Health Luc Boileau and Education Minister Jean-François Roberge. The latter was there because the premier also announced that elementary and secondary schools will re-open for in-person learning on Monday with students wearing masks indoors.

Legault also said that he hopes to re-open restaurant dining areas and performance venues in the coming weeks. That is, of course, for those who can prove they are “adequately vaccinated” against COVID.

The vaccine passport, meanwhile, will be required to enter big box stores (with the exception of grocery stores and pharmacies) as of January 21st.

The premier said that experts are telling him that the Omicron variant case numbers have peaked and that hospitalizations soon will as well. He cited the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) predictions that came out today to justify loosening of some measures.

Adult Quebecers who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will soon have to pay a fee if they don’t have a medical exemption preventing them from being vaccinated.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement in an early-afternoon press conference joined by the new Interim National Director of Public Health Dr. Luc Boileau (replacing Dr. Horacio Arruda, who resigned last night) and Health Minister Christian Dubé.

This tax or fee, which Legault described as a “health contribution” will be of a “significant” amount (and Legault doesn’t consider something in the $50-$100 range substantial). According to to the premier:

“All Quebec adults who refuse in the coming weeks to at least get a first dose, will be getting a bill.”

The premier didn’t appear to be concerned about possible legal challenges or opposition to the tax when asked by reporters, arguing instead that the roughly 90% of Quebecers who are vaccinated are “tired” of bearing the brunt for the 10% unvaccinated who make up 50% of those in the hospital with the Omicron COVID variant.

Dr. Horacio Arruda has resigned as Quebec’s National Director of Public Health. While he has held this position since 2012 under governments of different parties, he became a household name in Quebec over the past two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arruda had become a regular fixture on the government’s COVID briefings alongside Premier François Legault and various other government officials.

A spokesperson for the premier confirmed that Arruda had offered his resignation and Legault has accepted. CTV News reported that they had received the resignation letter and printed some parts of it:

“The recent remarks made on the credibility of our opinions and on our scientific rigor undoubtedly cause a certain erosion in the adhesion of the population…In this context, I consider it appropriate to offer you the possibility of replacing me before the end of my term of office, at least as DNSP…Do not see in this gesture as an abandonment on my part, but rather the offer of an opportunity for you to reassess the situation, after several waves [of the pandemic] and in a context in constant evolution.”

The full letter (in French) has since been shared on Twitter.

The government wouldn’t comment further on the resignation at this time but said they would address it in a press conference tomorrow (Tuesday).

As of Tuesday, January 18th, Quebecers will need to show their proof of vaccination to buy hard liquor or any product at the SAQ or cannabis from the SQDC.

Christian Dubé, Quebec’s Health Minister, made the announcement in a late morning press conference joined by vaccine program director Daniel Paré and associate deputy health minister Lucie Opatrny. He added that the same rules will apply to some “non-essential” businesses in the future, without being specific on the scope or the timeframe.

Currently, people who have received two vaccine shots and proof through an app or on a printout can enter places like bars and restaurant dining areas (when they are open), but Dubé says that the vaccine passport will soon require three doses to work. He said that the government would give people enough time to get their third shot before implementing the change.

Following the announcement, Quebec Liberal Party Leader Dominique Anglade criticized the Legault Government’s handling of the Omicron variant stage of the pandemic. While her party says it would also cut off the unvaccinated’s access to the SAQ and SQDC, Aglande tweeted (in French) “It feels like we are on a boat without a rudder and without a compass. I call upon François Legault to regain control of the management of the pandemic.”

Jason C. McLean and Special Guests Dawn McSweeney and Jerry Gabriel start with Quebec’s second curfew which begins on New Year’s Eve and then talk about some of the top news stories of 2021.

Follow Dawn McSweeney on Twitter and Instagram @mcmoxy

Follow Jerry Gabriel on Twitter (@depressingbear) and Instagram (@jerrygabrielrocks)

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter and Instagram @jasoncmclean

As of tomorrow night, December 31st, aka New Year’s Eve, Quebec will be under a 10pm to 5am curfew. Restaurant dining areas will also close and home gatherings will be banned, except when it comes to caregivers and people who live alone.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement at an early evening press conference joined by National Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda and Christian Dubé, the Minister of Health and Social Services.

The premier added that places of worship must close, with the exception of funerals which will be limited to 25 people. Stores, including grocery stores, must close for the next three Sundays except for pharmacies, gas stations and dépanneurs.

Legault admitted that the hospitalization rate for the Omicron COVID-19 variant weren’t as high as other variants such as Delta but said that the record-breaking spread means caution necessitates measures like this. He added that the curfew is necessary because “a minority of people” won’t respect the rules and a curfew just for the unvaccinated would be too hard to enforce.

While the Quebec Government is still allowing home gatherings up to ten people for Christmas, that number drops to six people, or two home bubbles, on Sunday, December 26th. On that same date, restaurants need to only allow six people or two family bubbles sit at the same table.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement at an early evening press conference alongside Christian Dubé, the Minister of Health and Social Services, and National Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda.

Legault added that while Christmas parties of up to ten people are allowed, he encourages everyone to cancel them if possible and to only go to one (on either the 24th or the 25th). He also said that people over 60 who haven’t received their third vaccine dose are the most vulnerable and should take the most precautions (two meters, open windows, etc.) if going out.

Dubé also said that while cases are skyrocketing (the reason for these measures and the others announced on Monday), they are monitoring the situation in hospitals closely to see if the predictions they received that hospitalizations will increase proportionally come true or if they don’t, as in some other areas with similar vaccination rates.

Legault stressed the importance of vaccination and also testing, but Arruda reminded people that the PCR tests are prioritized for symptomatic people.

While the restrictions announced today weren’t as severe as some were suspecting, the government isn’t ruling out adding more measures.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still very much upon us, and with the Omicron variant spreading like wildfire, I think we can all agree that the Christmas holidays are going to suck this year. That said, no one wants to make things worse by getting slapped with a fine for violating public health rules, or thrown in jail for crimes that are painfully common during the season.

As per what’s become a bit of a Forget the Box holiday tradition, I’m here to help. This article is going to give a crash course on the new Quebec COVID-19 rules in effect as of today, as well as other tips for getting through the holidays in one piece. I’m not a doctor, or a psychologist, I’m just a law school grad who likes to research and help others.

First, let’s talk about the Omicron variant and why it’s driving case numbers up. It is a COVID-19 variant discovered in late November 2021. While research on the variant is ongoing, one thing is clear: it’s spreading fast, and is likely to overtake the Delta variant in the 89 countries it has been detected in, Canada-included.

The numbers in Quebec have gone from less than five hundred cases a day to nearly four thousand a day because of Omicron, and as a result the provincial government has imposed new health measures that started yesterday. Here’s a quick summary (the complete English version of the new rules is available for download on the Quebec government’s website):

As of yesterday, December 20, 2021, at 5pm, primary and secondary schools are closed until January 10, 2022 when in-person schooling is expected to resume for primary school students. Secondary schoolers will be doing remote learning when classes resume. Bars, taverns, gyms, movie theatres, spas and concert venues are closed until further notice. Restaurants are only allowed to operate at 50% capacity and limit their hours from 5 am to 10 pm.

As of when this is being written, religious services must operate at 50% capacity, attendees must remain seated and vaccine passports are required. Weddings and funerals can take place with a maximum of 50 people. For funerals those 50 can be on a rolling basis, meaning once 50 people have paid their respects, another 50 can replace them. If the wedding or funeral does not require a vaccine passport of its attendees, the maximum number allowed drops to 25 people.

For gatherings in private homes, be they with family or chosen family, the current legal limit is ten people, but the government said that may change. If the gathering is outdoors, that number increases to 20 people, but the cold weather will likely deter the latter.

Working from home is now required of all non-essential workers including civil servants. Failure to obey these rules can result in massive fines, and maybe even encounters with the police like the ones that went viral last holiday season.

The non-mandatory recommendations by the government include avoiding social contact. This can be especially hard on one’s mental health, as people always feel lonelier over the holidays when ads are promoting the merits of togetherness.

Try keeping the TV or Youtube or a podcast on to break the painful silence, and take the isolation as an opportunity to brush up on a skill, learn a new one, or take up a new solo hobby. Do not hesitate to seek help if you feel yourself slipping under the strain of new rules and the fear of getting sick, despite your attempts to cope.

Seeking help takes immense courage and you’re not weak if you do so. If you’re in a mental health crisis Call 811 and press two to speak to a social worker who can direct you to mental health services in your area or text 686868 to chat anonymously with a crisis worker for free 24/7.

As of today, rapid tests will be available free every 30 days in certain pharmacies throughout Quebec. In order to adhere to government rules regarding the lowered capacity of stores and other businesses, some chains like Jean Coutu are offering the rapid testing kits only by appointment.

One testing kit is good for up to five tests, and you should absolutely get one. The test is sensitive enough to pick up the infection marker of the virus even if you’re asymptomatic, so taking one right before a holiday gathering might be a good idea, but there’s a shortage of tests so use yours wisely.

Don’t bother with mistletoe this year; given the pandemic, that kind of random kissing is just silly.

When it comes to alcohol and cannabis, the chemicals that make family gatherings tolerable for so many, remember that driving while under the influence is a criminal offense that can result in fines and jail time. If intoxicated, crash with your host, accept a lift home, have someone call a taxi or an Uber for you, but if you’re female or female presenting, it is ill advised to ride the latter two alone, given the history of drivers taking advantage of women under the influence.

Last but not least, let’s talk about fireworks. They’re popular to set off on New Year’s Eve, but they are also extremely dangerous. Asian language news channels seldom censor the consequences of mismanaged fireworks, which show footage of protruding hand bones and fingers blown off.

In Montreal, fireworks must be handled by someone over the age of 18, and it is illegal to hold fireworks once the fuse is lit. It is also illegal to set off fireworks in windy conditions or in a location where they’ll fly over an audience; for more information check out of the City of Montreal’s website.

The holidays are once again being ruined by the pandemic, but with a few precautions, we can perhaps make them a little less awful. Stay safe, stay sane, wear a mask, and get vaccinated.

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad, and Maligayang Pasko!

Featured Image by Joe Buckingham via WikiMedia Commons

As of 5pm today, bars, gyms, movie theatres, performance venues, casinos as well as elementary and high schools in Quebec must close. Meanwhile, restaurant dining areas can only be open from 5am to 10pm.

Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services, made the announcement just a few hours before the new regulations come into effect. He did so in a virtual press conference joined by the National Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda and Quebec vaccination program head Daniel Paré.

Today was the day when the restrictions announced on Thursday came into effect with Quebec stores, restaurants and other businesses limited to 50% capacity and private gatherings limited to 10 people.

The government says that these additional restrictions are necessary because the Omicron Variant of COVID-19 is spreading way faster than they anticipated even on Thursday and they are expecting that to mean increased hospitalizations.

Watch today’s English announcement:

As of Monday, businesses in Quebec, including stores, restaurants, cinemas, and bars, will once again be limited to 50% capacity. Private gatherings will also be limited to ten people, including for the holidays.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement at an early evening press conference and cited the increased spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, claiming that experts have told him hospitalizations will increase unless contact is limited.

Mask wearing will be required in schools again. After the holidays, primary schools will re-open when planned, but high schools will be remote until January 10th.

Office Christmas parties, karaoke and dancing will also be banned as of Monday.

Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Dawn McSweeney discuss some of the big news stories of the week including the first person sent home because of Bill 21, a subreddit thwarting Kellogg’s plans to hire scab workers and more. Plus a Legault rant!

Follow Dawn McSweeney on Twitter and Instagram @mcmoxy

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter and Instagram @jasoncmclean

The John Oliver video mentioned

Sand sculptor Jonathan Bouchard aka Jobi is trying to make the best of pandemic life. With CBC’s reality competition show Race Against the Tide having wrapped last summer and many travel restrictions still in effect, the Saint Calixte QC native is trying to branch out into other artistic mediums.

I had a chance to sit down with Jobi about his experiences on the show. Being a visual artist, myself, I had so many questions about sand sculpting and what it’s like to be on TV.

One thing I was dying to know was how he got into sand sculpting because after all, Quebec isn’t known for its beaches. Jobi explained that he was originally doing snow carving but got into sand sculpture because it generally allows him to work in nicer weather with fewer tools.

“Carving sand is really delicate. You have to really be smooth and I like these feeling of scratching the surface and making details. To me it’s like meditation.”

Jobi’s has been on the Sand Sculpting circuit for fifteen years, and while he mostly enjoys it, the travel restrictions have made him consider other, more permanent mediums. He told me that he recently completed an outdoor concrete sculpture in a neighboring town. He is trying to do less and less sand sculpture now but would still like to do a couple of competitions every year.

All artists have a preferred subject they enjoy featuring in their work, such as trees, portraits, and so on. Jobi especially enjoys sculpting animals with robotic elements.

“I like bio mechanic stuff… I like to do a lot of small details.”

As a fellow Quebecois, I felt obligated to ask him about whether he experienced any difficulties with language and culture while working on the show in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. His fellow sculptor, New Jersey native Dan Belcher, seemed like an unlikely partner for the young Quebecois.

“I get more and more comfortable with English, but especially at the beginning when I started to travel to do sand carving, it was a big challenge. I’m a different person in English than I am in French, I’m less natural, so for me it’s a little bit difficult.”

With regards to Dan Belcher, Jobi sheepishly admits he initially tried to get a fellow Quebecois sand sculptor to be his partner in the competition, but when that didn’t work out he reached out to Belcher, whom he knows from the sand carving competition circuit.

“I know he knows what he’s doing. I can trust him as a good sand carver. He’s a nice guy and a nice carver. For me that was enough to make him a good partner. Of course the language made it difficult for me to have discussions all the time. My English is ok but still it was difficult.”

This was not the first time Bouchard has been on TV, having done some small interviews and children’s shows in the past. This was, however, the biggest show he’s ever done.

“It was really intense. The concept was already something really intense to manage the tide and all the production (crew) always on our back always asking, doing some little interview, especially with the timing. But still it was a very interesting experience,”

As to whether the pandemic affected the production of the show, Jobi said there wasn’t much. They were required to quarantine at first, and take their temperature every morning, but that’s about it. Now that the show has wrapped, he’s trying to make the best of things.

Race Against the Tide premiers Thursday, September 9 at 9pm Eastern on CBC

You can see more of Jobi’s work on his Facebook page

Featured Image of host Shaun Majumder looking at Jobi work via CBC

It’s official. Quebecers who want to use certain services or take part in certain activities deemed “non-essential” need to present proof of being adequately vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so. Quebec is the first Canadian province to implement a COVID vaccine passport, but with Ontario, BC and Manitoba working on their own systems, it won’t be the last.

People will also need to present ID along with the passport.

Where Do You Need the Quebec Vaccine Passport?

There is a rather extensive list of where vaccine passports are now required on the Quebec Government’s website. Here are just some of the places and activities:

  • Restaurants (including fast food and on terrasses)
  • Bars (including on terrasses)
  • Nightclubs
  • Shopping mall food courts
  • Performance venues
  • Movie theatres
  • Indoor sports
  • Outdoor sports with close contact
  • Outdoor concerts, sporting events, shows and other events with over 50 people in attendance
  • Festivals
  • Indoor weight lifting, swimming and gymnastics (ie. going to the gym)

There are some exemptions, for example, homeless people who want to eat at shopping mall food courts.

How Do You Get the Quebec Vaccine Passport?

Android users (as of yesterday) and iPhone users can download the “VaxiCode” app from either the Google Play Store or the App Store. Make sure to include the quotation marks when searching for it as it is a rather new app.

Once installed on your phone, you can either scan the QR code you were sent after your second vaccine shot or enter information and have the app locate your vax info. You’ll need to enter your name, date of birth, Medicare card number, mother’s maiden name, father’s name, postal code and the date of your first vax shot along with its brand.

Once the info is located and successfully added, you’ll be able to open up the app, click on your name and display the new QR code generated, along with your ID, to staff at the restaurant you wish to sit down at, or wherever else you want to go. You can also forgo using a phone and print a paper copy of your QR code (business card size is recommended, as is getting it laminated).