Montreal and Laval are taking another step on the long, winding road back to normality on Monday as the two regions will be downgraded from red to orange zones.
The two regions, comprising the most populous part of the province, have been classified as red zones since Sept. 28, meaning they were subject to extensive restrictions.
But with the new orange-zone status, restaurant dining rooms and gyms can finally reopen. Measures remain in place, though, banning indoor gatherings at private residences of people from different households.
For restaurant owners, the prospect of welcoming clients inside again is a major relief, even if distancing guidelines will limit how many people they can entertain at a given time.
“We’re looking forward to it, even if we still have a few problems to solve,” said Nina Pourafzal, owner of Byblos, a popular Persian restaurant in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood.
Pourafzal said they’re rushing to find and train new staff, as many of their former employees were forced to find other jobs as the pandemic dragged on.
“We’ll be counting on the patience of our clients because there will be a little adjustment period,” she told Radio-Canada on Sunday.
Parts of the Eastern Townships, Chaudière-Appalaches and the Bas-Saint-Laurent regions will also be downgraded to orange zones on Monday.
Schools get involved in vaccination effort
Along with the reopening of restaurants and gyms, orange-zone status means high school students will no longer be forced to attend school on alternate days.
On Monday, Quebec’s vaccination campaign also enters an important new phase as schools will begin co-ordinating efforts for students between the ages of 12 and 17 to get their first shot.
Each school is developing its own approach, in collaboration with regional public health officials. In Montreal, some schools will bus children to vaccination centres.
At other schools, where large numbers of students are already vaccinated, it will be up to unvaccinated students to make their own arrangements.
Health officials will also be deploying mobile vaccination clinics to schools in neighbourhoods where vaccination rates are lower, said Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of the health authority covering west-central Montreal.
The goal, she said, is to vaccinate as many children as possible over the next few weeks. Once the two-week push is over, authorities will take stock of how many teens they vaccinated.
Dupuis said, if necessary, they could deploy the mobile clinics in parks or design activities to expand vaccine pick-up in teens.
She also said that authorities are concerned about a new COVID-19 variant, known as the Delta variant, which has been detected in Montreal.
The Delta variant is more transmissible than other variants, including the B.1.1.7, or Alpha variant, which was responsible for Quebec’s third wave.
Studies suggest that two doses of the vaccine are required for significant amounts of protection against the Delta variant.
“We really have to vaccinate fast,” Dupuis said. “We would like to win the race, and we want the variant to lose the race.”