Brownstein: Now is not the time for Legault to play Santa

After rumors that Quebec will enter a two-week lockdown and the curfew will be reinstated, the new and lackluster COVID measures announced Wednesday night will have us catching up again.

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Prepare to have fun at home or in restaurants, but only with a group of six.


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Is that all in the way of the new restrictions in Quebec?

Yep. For now. Shocking, in light of the number of new COVID cases.

So far the rumors on Wednesday that the province would enter a two-week lockdown, that non-essential businesses would be closed, that we could return to curfew mode again, that the sky was falling.

Instead, all Prime Minister François Legault announced Wednesday night was that, starting Sunday, gatherings in Quebec homes will be limited to six people from two bubbles, and restaurants will be limited to six people in a table of two familiar bubbles. And don’t worry about having 10 for family dinners at Christmas.

This came on the heels of Legault announcing that the number of new cases to be revealed on Thursday will be in the absolutely jarring and unprecedented (again) range of 9,000. Frankly, a two-week lockdown could have made a lot more sense.


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Naturally, everything is subject to change if the COVID numbers continue to spiral out of control like a drunken sailor, because we all know that the rules can change by a penny in Quebec.

Last Wednesday we were living the crazy life in this province. Almost everything was open: bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, stadiums, gyms, spas, schools. We could karaoke out of tune to the delight of our heart and larynx. Except for mandatory masking within many establishments, it was almost like a joyous time before a pandemic.

But then COVID case numbers began to rise exponentially thanks to the Omicron variant, prompting Legault last Thursday to announce new restrictions, followed by another round of even tougher measures on Monday. The Christmas gatherings were reduced from 20 to 10 people. Schools, gyms, spas, bars, cinemas and theaters were closed. Goodbye karaoke too. Capacity was reduced to 50 percent in stores and restaurants, with the latter having to close at 10 p.m.


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These restrictions came shortly after Quebec recorded 2,386 new COVID cases last Wednesday. A terrifying figure, no doubt, but compared to the 6,361 new cases this Wednesday and the 9,000 to come, almost a walk in the park.

On top of that, if the situation doesn’t improve, the island of Montreal alone could see 100 new hospitalizations per day, according to some projections. As of Wednesday, there were already 324 people in the island’s hospitals and a total of 445 in Quebec.

If there is any glimmer of hope, it is that the numbers in intensive care units are not out of control yet and the mortality figures have remained surprisingly low.

How surprising are the new COVID case numbers? Look at these: On July 20, the seven-day moving average for new cases was 77. On Wednesday, it was 4,279, and it is expected to rise much higher.


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So what’s up?

Yes, to the credit of our leaders, Quebec’s vaccination levels are high, though clearly not high enough to ward off the rampaging Omicron variant. But the sad reality is that we were not properly prepared for what has come thundering. Combine that with too many people partying like there’s no tomorrow, which sadly might be the case for some, and dark times are ahead.

The restrictions should have been instituted before this week. Vaccines should have been implemented much more quickly, particularly boosters, which are believed to offer significant protection against Omicron.

Did we really have to wait six months between doses? Did we really have to wait that long before vaccinating the children? This week alone, rapid tests have been released to the public, often in chaotic fashion, to help ease the crush at COVID testing centers. Only recently has the Quebec government been reaching out for help from the Canadian Armed Forces to speed up the vaccination process, and not with much success, according to Legault on Wednesday night. And only on Tuesday did the mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, quarantined because she tested positive for COVID, restored the state of emergency for the city.


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It seems like we’re always trying to catch up here and we come up short.

In fairness to the leaders of Quebec, they are damned if they do, damned more if they don’t. Legault correctly sensed that people were discouraged and ready to explode. However secular the ideology of his CAQ party may be, he really wanted Quebecers to celebrate Christmas and get the joy they so badly needed during the holidays.

Good thinking, but in times like this, tough decisions often have to be made for the greater good.

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