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Reporter Debrief: Nightly Curfew Set To Begin Saturday In Quebec

Montreal city in the snow
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A curfew goes into effect in Quebec Province on Jan. 9 at 8 p.m. Montreal Gazette health reporter Aaron Derfel spoke with Henry Epp about the new restrictions it brings.

On Saturday night, the province of Quebec will impose an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, to remain in place for the next four weeks, as the government aims to slow down climbing coronavirus case numbers.

This is the first such curfew imposed in Canada since the pandemic began, according to the CBC. But it's a lesser measure than was rumored earlier this week, when reports surfaced that the province would potentially go into a lockdown.

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Montreal Gazette health reporter Aaron Derfel about the new restrictions. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So what exactly are the restrictions that are going into place tomorrow night?

Aaron Derfel: OK, so apart from the curfew, non-essential businesses will still stay closed for another four weeks. Elementary school students will return to class this coming Monday and a week after that, high school students.

But what really people are full of trepidation about is the nightly curfew. So there are there are a lot of questions. People are worried about such things as, you know: can they walk their dog? Yes. Can they salt their driveway? Yes. You know, if they are a worker and they have to do an evening shift, can they do that if they're stopped by the police? Well, in that case, they'll have to show a letter from their employer.

The curfew is controversial because critics say it will make it more difficult for low-income workers who work these nightly shifts.

And Montreal has a big homeless population, and there are outbreaks in homeless communities. So what will they do?

So there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Really, it is a mass society experiment that's about to be launched and no one knows exactly how it's going to play out.

Yeah. Well, do public health officials expect this curfew could actually change the trajectory of the pandemic? And how would that happen?

That, too, is debatable. Other nations have proceeded with curfews with varying degrees of success. And obviously, Quebec is hoping that this will cut down on community transmission.

Earlier, the government had floated this idea of shutting down manufacturing, but it reversed course on that. And a lot of the outbreaks are occurring in manufacturing.

The government has countered that the community transmission – a lot of it is between households. So the thinking – the hope, at least, is – that once the government imposes a curfew, fewer people will be likely to visit friends and family for dinner.

What is the big picture right now, in terms of the progression of the virus?

The big picture is that our acute care health care system has reached its breaking point. Hospital ICUs are full. Quebec’s largest pediatric hospital announced that it will be admitting young adults with COVID-19. This is unprecedented. Montreal Children's Hospital a couple of weeks ago started accepting adult post-operative patients in its ICU.

So this gives you an idea of how stretched our system is. And that's why the government has imposed this curfew, more than anything. It's not just an abstract matter of rising cases, it's that our health care system is overwhelmed.

At the same time, I understand vaccines have begun to be administered around the province. Is that rollout going as expected?

Well, it's better. Yesterday, the province administered nearly 14,000 vaccines. But even at that rate, to vaccinate 70-80% of the population, it would take three years. There's frustration at the provincial level that our federal government has been slow in procuring the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And so there is just really this frustration.

The government is hoping that by the end of this month, it will have vaccinated 250,000 people. But again, that's still not enough.

Another thing I want to point out is just, you know, the wave of death. The province of Quebec so far has recorded 8,606, you know, 45 since yesterday. So that's another reason that the government is taking these drastic, drastic measures, because there is this – sadly, tragically – this second wave of COVID-19 death in the province.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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