The Quebec government is imposing a “holiday pause” to stem the record-breaking numbers of new Covid-19 cases in the province by shutting down most retail stores and gatherings during the holidays.
For the period of December 25-January 11 only essential services – including banks, grocery stores, pharmacies, pet shops, hardware stores, liquor stores and cannabis stores – will remain open. Big-box stores like Costco will only be allowed to sell essential items.
The government also announced that all yellow zones across the province were to become orange zones, and all orange zones will become red zones beginning December 17 until at least January 11. In the new red zones that means that bars, indoor dining rooms, gyms and museums will close. The province has said that office workers will have to work from home during this time.
Families in the red zones would be permitted to join a bubble with one other family, whereas currently they are only able to have a single visitor. Outdoor gatherings are also prohibited, except for outdoor physical activities, which allow up to eight participants.
While many of these prohibitions do not affect Eeyou Istchee directly, they are expected to result in a significant decline in travel between Eeyou Istchee communities and other communities in Quebec. The province has recommended against travelling between zones during this time.
Chibougamau and Chapais are set to move into a red zone as of December 17, while Mistissini, Ouje-Bougoumou and Waswanipi will move back to Phase 4 of the deconfinement plan.
Quebec will be keeping primary schools closed until January 11, in line with the Cree School Board, which intends to restart all classes that day, with some classes online only until January 18.
As Quebec began a program to vaccinate at-risk groups against the coronavirus, the Cree Health Board (CHB) announced that it may still be a while before the vaccine is available in the territory.
“Eeyou Istchee is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada that has not had Covid-19 community transmission, this was not by chance and is due to the quality of local and regional leadership, the dedication of the Cree Health Board Public Health Department, the reliability of our public institutions like the Cree School Board and the Cree Health Board,” the CHB said in a statement.
“With the introduction of safe vaccines, the end of Covid-19 restrictions is near and soon we will be able to freely say goodbye to those who have left us and welcome our newest and tiniest community members with hugs and kisses.”
The CHB said that it was working to ensure that adequate personnel, equipment, procedures and facilities were in place so that the vaccination could begin when ready.
The only areas considered at reduced risk, and not requiring a 14-day self-isolation upon return, are Region 8 (Abitibi-Témiscamingue), Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec), Region 17 (Nunavik) and Region 18 (Eeyou Istchee), as well as the Porcupine and Timiskaming regions of northern Ontario.
However, the CHB said that cases were climbing in northern Ontario and urged travellers to stay vigilant. The board noted that although Region 2 (Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean) has improved, cases were still high – the region was seeing between 70 to 80 new cases per day, with 677 current active cases.
Region 8 is considered stable with no evidence of community transmission, and between 1 and 2 new cases a day recently, with 14 active cases overall. Region 10 saw between 0 and 2 new cases, with 3 active cases total.
The CHB urged community members to shop locally or buy online, or to have one person designated to shop for others if necessary.
Quebec vaccinated over 1,200 people in its first two days of its inoculation program, and the province was set to receive a further 4.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine currently in use. The federal government was expected to approve another vaccine from Moderna, which would be ready for distribution within two days of approval. Quebec stands to receive 13.4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine. There are another five companies which stand to receive the green light for vaccine distribution.
Quebec has announced that its priority for vaccines are long-term care homes, followed by those in private seniors’ residences and those in isolated communities, including Eeyou Istchee. Those vaccinations are expected to be completed by the end of March 2021.
Vaccines will then be distributed by age group, starting with those 80 and above, those in their 70s, those in their 60s, followed by those under 60 with health risks. Pregnant women and children have not been included in the distribution plan because they were not included in the clinical trials.
Across Quebec, the province’s health authorities reported nearly 2,000 new cases a day in recent days, with dozens of deaths. Nationally, Canada has reported over 479,000 cases, with 76,000 considered active, and over 13,750 deaths.