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Quebec starts nightly curfew for pandemic

QUEBEC CITY — A curfew meant to curb a surge in coronavirus infections took effect across Quebec on Saturday evening.

The measure is needed to prevent gatherings that have fueled the rampant spread of the virus, Premier Francois Legault said in announcing the rules earlier in the week. The French-speaking Canadian province has a population of more than 8.4 million.

“The situation is critical and a shock treatment is needed,” Legault said in a Facebook post earlier Saturday. “Our hospitals are filling with COVID-19 patients. Hundreds of people are in intensive care, fighting for their lives. Tens of people die every day.”

The rules will see most residents face police questions or fines of up to $6,000 Canadian (US$4,728) if they’re out between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the next four weeks, until Feb. 8.

There are exceptions for essential workers, people walking dogs, and those who have medical reasons to be out, such as a doctor’s appointment.

Neighboring Ontario went under a province-wide shutdown, though not a curfew, on Dec. 26 to slow the spread of the virus. The shutdown was lifted for northern Ontario Saturday but continues for southern Ontario through Jan. 23.

The Quebec curfew has seen sharp resistance from some.

Just before the curfew was set to take effect, a few dozen people walked through the streets of Montreal’s Plateau district, chanting “freedom” as five police cruisers with lights flashing trailed behind them. A helicopter hovered overhead, and police cruisers lined the streets.

Under the terms of the curfew, grocery stores and convenience stores will have to close by 7:30 p.m. in order to allow workers and customers to get home. Stores connected to gas stations can stay open to serve essential workers.

The curfew comes as Quebec’s COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise, with hospitals saying they are filling up and risk becoming overwhelmed.

The trend continued Saturday as the province reported 3,127 new cases of coronavirus infections and 41 more deaths associated with COVID-19. It was the first time the province’s daily case count passed the 3,000 mark.

The North Country Chamber of Commerce, based in Plattsburgh, said the Quebec government assured that essential workers will still be able to commute across the Quebec-New York border. Chamber President Garry Douglas said that includes “hundreds of Quebec doctors, nurses and health care professionals who are a vital part of the North Country’s health care system.”

Douglas also said he has been assured that Quebec wants to keep manufacturing supply chains open across the border.

“Many of our North Country manufacturers and other businesses depend on cross border supply chains, so hopefully interruptions of these connections can be avoided in most cases,” he said. “We also have area businesses dependent on the Port of Montreal, as well as rail and trucking across the border, and we are told these shipping and transportation activities will continue.”

At the same time, Douglas lamented that these restrictions do not bode well for reopening the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential travel, which has been prohibited since March 2020 due to the pandemic.

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