By Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press on October 8, 2020.
MONTREAL – Once again calling the COVID-19 situation in the province “critical,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault urged Quebecers to remain vigilant as new rules requiring high school students to wear masks came into effect Thursday.
Quebec reported 1,078 new COVID-19 cases and nine additional deaths, while the number of people being treated in hospital increased by 16 to 425 – 68 of whom are in intensive care.
High school students in the province’s maximum-alert regions, which include greater Montreal and Quebec City, had to wear masks in class beginning Thursday, and police officers were present outside schools to make sure they were aware of the rules.
Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said police were stressing the need to follow public health measures, such as physical distancing.
“I think, it’s a good idea to have help from the police forces to come and raise awareness,” Roberge said in Quebec City. “I think we should all work together, parents, school staff, police forces to educate our young people.”
Also beginning Thursday, students in Grades 10 and 11 will attend school on alternate days to reduce class sizes.
The premier said that with daily case numbers topping 1,000 for the sixth time in seven days, he is reassured that imposing strict health measures last week – closing restaurant dining rooms, bars, gyms and banning public gatherings – was the right thing to do in the province’s COVID-19 red zones.
Quebec has now reported 82,992 people infected in the province since the pandemic began, with 5,915 deaths. With less than a quarter of the Canadian population, Quebec has more than half of all COVID-19 cases in the country and more than 60 per cent of all deaths.
On Thursday, Legault offered a comparison with the COVID-19 situation in the northeastern United States and in larger U.S. cities, noting that the situation in those areas was similar to or worse than Quebec.
“What I’m telling you is that all the major cities and states in North America in the east are all in a comparable situation to us,” Legault said. “There is one exception, which is Ontario.” As of Thursday, Ontario had recorded 56,742 cases and 2,992 deaths.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Christian Dube raised the idea that perhaps Quebecers were less disciplined when it came to following the rules. Liberal Leader Dominque Anglade said Thursday that such comments are a signal that the Legault government was unprepared for the second COVID-19 wave.
“What is embarrassing is the way we’re finding answers every week, and they change all the time,” Anglade said. “So, before, he was saying we were the best, now, he’s saying it’s not too bad when we’re comparing ourselves to the worst.”
Anglade said she didn’t understand why Legault is looking to the United States as a benchmark rather than Ontario or British Columbia, which made different decisions on reopening schools and requiring masks.
Legault said the province is trying to increase its contact tracing capacity, and he again urged Quebecers to download the federal COVID Alert smartphone app. And he appealed to people to stay home this Thanksgiving weekend.
“I’m asking Quebecers not to have a meeting with their family,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “Usually I go see my mother myself, (but) I won’t do it.”
As for Quebecers’ sluggish response to downloading the smartphone application since Quebec embarked Monday, Legault said some in the province are leery, and he blamed the opposition Parti Quebecois and Quebec solidaire for raising doubts.
“I think that Quebecers are scared about their personal data, that they can be used by somebody else, the government, the ministry, Google, whoever,” Legault said. “We made all the verifications since this summer, and I can guarantee the Quebecers that there is no risk for their personal data.”
Interim PQ leader Pascal Berube called Legault’s allegations baseless, noting a parliamentary commission rejected using the app. Quebec solidaire co-spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said Legault’s comments were misleading.
“The main problem with this application is not the protection of personal data. It is that it will overload the screening clinics, which already give results too late,” Nadeau-Dubois said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2020.