Quebec venues to be full houses as COVID wane


Quebec venues back to full capacity Image: Center Bell Arena

Thanks to high vaccination rates and falling COVID-19 numbers, Quebec (Canadian province) will start allowing full-capacity seating at cultural venues and sports stadiums starting October 8th.

The ‘Montreal Gazette’ stated that the loosening of restrictions comes with conditions. Those who wish to be among the 21,000 crowding the Bell Centre for the Habs’ home opener against the Rangers on October 16th, for instance, will have to wear masks even while seated, and show proof they’re fully vaccinated.

The 21,302-capacity Bell Centre, formerly known as the Molson Centre (or Le Centre Molson), is a multipurpose arena located in Montréal, Quebec, Canada. It opened on March 16th, 1996, after nearly three years of construction. It is most notable as the home arena for the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens who are co-owned by the Molson Family. The Bell Centre is the largest hockey arena in the world.

The Montreal Canadiens, colloquially known as the Habs, are a professional ice hockey team based in Montréal (Canada). They compete in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.

The New York Rangers are a professional ice hockey team based in New York City (US). They compete in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference.

The ‘Montreal Gazette’ further stated that Health Minister Christian Dubé stated on September 30th that while conditions have improved, October will bring added difficulties, with its colder temperatures, Thanksgiving and Halloween parties, and flu season. Which means the Government won’t be removing multiple restrictions soon.

Remarked Dubé, “I think we have to tell Quebecers that we succeeded relatively well in our mission in September, particularly considering it involved the return to school for millions of students. We can lessen restrictions, and that’s why we’re here. But I will also say that we cannot cry victory, because we have to remain safe. October will also have its challenges.”

The seven-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 cases dropped to 636 on September 30th, the 11th consecutive decline.

Quebec Public Health Director Horacio Arruda said he had been expecting much higher numbers and wasn’t envisioning reducing restrictions before October 15th. But health officials said Quebecers shouldn’t expect mask laws to be revoked or the maximum number of people allowed in a private residence to increase beyond 10 until those aged five to 11 are able to be vaccinated. Vaccinations for that age group are expected to start in November.

Restrictions will remain on the size of gatherings in closer quarters and for activities such as dancing in clubs because the risks are much higher, Arruda said –“When you’re in a house with 10 people, the interaction is very, very different. The risk of transmission of COVID-19 in that space is far more elevated than in an auditorium. … It’s the same thing for restaurants and bars.”

Much will depend on the epidemiological picture in late October, Arruda said. For gatherings at Thanksgiving and Halloween, he counseled exercising caution, wearing a mask if not vaccinated or if one is showing symptoms, or just skipping the get-together “in order to save grandma”.

Starting October 8th, cultural venues such as theaters and arts and sports auditoriums with assigned seating can be filled to capacity. The decision was spurred in part by the fact there were very few outbreaks recorded at previous events. Cinemas will also be allowed to operate at full capacity.

Regulations will be the same for outdoor sites, although vaccination passports will only be required for events with more than 500 people. Assigned seating will be mandatory.

Conferences, large meetings and graduation ceremonies are also allowed as long as attendees are seated. Events with more than 250 people will require passports and full-time masking. Those with fewer than 250 won’t require passports, but people must maintain one-meter spacing, and masks won’t be required if people are seated.

For orchestras and choirs, the number of performers allowed to participate will rise to 100, with rules regarding masking and distancing enforced depending on the type of event. Film sets and television studio audiences will also be allowed at full capacity.

Said Culture Minister Nathalie Roy, “This news comes as a breath of fresh air for our artistes, our cultural businesses and also for the public. Despite difficult months that we all lived, the cultural milieu has shown tremendous resilience.”

The Government will face another challenge on October 15th, which is the deadline it set for all healthcare workers to be double vaccinated or else face either suspension without pay or a transfer. As of September 30th, there were still 16,000 healthcare workers in Quebec who have not received a single dose, Dubé said, down from 30,000 at the start of September. Of that number, 6,400 are workers who deal directly with patients, 2,500 of whom work in Montréal.

The Government is still studying contingency plans, looking to transfer some unvaccinated employees who come into contact with patients to other departments when possible. The good news, Dubé said, is that 300 to 400 healthcare workers a day have been getting their first doses of late.

For those who have not, the Government started sending letters advising them they will be suspended or transferred as of mid-October.

Concluded Dubé, “We’ve seen outbreaks starting again in long-term care centers. That’s why we’re being prudent, and sticking to our word.”

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