Quebec Premier François Legault announced a return to normal for high school students across the province as of next Monday as the daily number of COVID-19 cases is stabilizing.
Students in secondary, 3, 4 and 5, in the province’s red zones have been alternating between online learning and in-person classes for several months, as Quebec attempted to curb the spread of the virus.
“That’s great news,” Legault said during a COVID-19 update in Quebec City on Tuesday. “It’s important that young people go to school.”
The premier also announced that dining rooms in seniors’ homes would be allowed to reopen as of Wednesday, providing that at least 75 per cent of residents have been vaccinated for more than three weeks.
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Legault warned, however, that the next few weeks will be decisive in keeping a third wave of the virus at bay.
“We’re resisting against the variants and the third wave but the battle is not over, we have to stay careful as we accelerate vaccination,” he said.
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Legault said the province will hit the one million mark in terms of people vaccinated in the province later in the day on Tuesday.
He credited the province’s strategy of delaying the second dose of the vaccine for allowing a greater proportion of the population to be protected against the virus.
Legault said Quebec is heading towards its goal of administering 50,000 doses a day and emphasized the importance of getting a shot.
“We have the opportunity to avoid a third wave but in order to do that, we have to follow the rules for a few weeks. No one wants to come back to a lockdown. It’s important to get the vaccine.”
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The premier indicated he will be getting his first dose on Friday in Montreal and encouraged others to follow suit.
Novel coronavirus variants remain a concern
While the number of new cases remains more or less stable, more transmissible variants are on the rise.
Legault indicated the current data indicate variants make up 30 per cent of new cases. He also pointed to Quebec projections that show variants will make up a majority of new cases by the end of the month.
With the rise in variants, some questioned why students were being sent back to school in red zones.
“Already, as of today, we have 23 schools that are completely closed. And we have 880 classes and that’s before the announcement,” said Olivier Drouin, parent and founder Covid Écoles Québec, a website that tracks COVID-19 cases in schools.
“I anticipate this will grow exponentially.”
The prospect of in-person teaching has also left many teachers feeling angry and overwhelmed.
“I think this is a terrible decision and I know that teachers right now are scratching their heads and they do not understand,” said Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers.
Yetman fears the system has already reached a breaking point and that the decision could have a disastrous impact.
“We have a lot of teachers that are retired, we have a lot of teachers that decided to leave the profession, we’re going to have more and more teachers out because of the variant,” she explained.
“Schools are going to close because there are not enough teachers in the building.”
The province’s public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda acknowledged that while there is a risk, the situation in schools is “controllable.”
“When there is a case, we do a big intervention,” he said.
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Arruda also said it’s important to consider the impact of not sending students to school. Arruda explained some students struggle with the hybrid model of learning and are at risk of failing their grade.
He also said mental health was an important consideration.
“We think that they have been deprived enough … we can balance that risk,” he said. “I believe there is a higher risk of problems with staying at home.”
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While remaining optimistic, Legault said any further loosening of restrictions was not possible at the time.
“Apart from these measures, we’re not announcing any changes today,”
He also had a message for those living in the Outaouais and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean regions. Those areas are at risk of being upgraded from orange zones to the maximum-alert level following recent outbreaks.
“I ask you to reduce your contacts as much as possible,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez
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