Quebecers will no longer have to wear masks in most public places in order to protect against COVID-19, at least as of next Saturday.
Quebec’s interim director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, made the announcement Wednesday.
Masks will still be required, however, on public transit, in health-care settings, at long-term care homes, and at other places where any health care is provided.
The elderly are still encouraged to wear masks, as they have higher risks.
And all people with an active or recent infection will continue to face restrictions, Boileau said. Those with confirmed infections are still required to self-isolate and then to mask for five days when they re-enter the public or have any social interactions.
The bigger logic goes not just for confirmed COVID-19 cases but for anyone with similar symptoms, he said. Even without a mandate in place, people must be prudent, self-isolate and wear a mask while they have symptoms.
“When we have symptoms, we stay home and isolate, and we protect others,” he said.
Dr. Jean Longtin, another public expert who spoke alongside Boileau, said that doing so, and not seeing vulnerable people while sick, “will have to become normal social [behaviour].”
Without a mandate in place, “it’s more of having a social responsibility,” he said.
While transit masking will continue, children on school buses will no longer need to wear masks, Boileau said — the province made this decision since kids are no longer masking at school.
Boileau also stressed that the province asks everyone to be respectful of other’s choices to wear masks voluntarily, as he expects many will do.
Quebec will be the last of the provinces to lift mandatory masking, and Longtin said it will be the last jurisdiction in North America. The only other province with the mandate still in place, PEI, plans to lift it as of this Friday.
Boileau had already hinted at the news at his last press conference on April 28.
At that time, he explained that the peak of the sixth COVID-19 wave had probably passed and a downward trend could be expected in the coming weeks.
WITHOUT MANDATE, BOILEAU EXPECTS ‘SELF-PROTECTION REFLEXES’
The long-term future is much more uncertain. Boileau spoke Wednesday about the need to monitor the variants and waves that arrive from now on and to get measures in place to ease them before things get too serious.
However, last week he also said authorities “do not wish” to bring back the mask mandate, even likely in the fall if another wave arrives, saying people know enough now to understand the risk and act responsibly.
“I think that people will spontaneously have self-protection reflexes,” Boileau said.
However, he also asked people to remember that “the virus can change, mutate, can have characteristics that surprise us.” For example, a future variant could target children more, he said. That sort of change could alter the province’s plans.
Longtin said there are two factors the province will be monitoring closely as future waves arrive: first, the characteristics of the variant involved, and second, the efficacy of the vaccines available.
The current set of vaccines, developed in 2020, are slowly waning in effectiveness as variants continue to evolve. However, updated vaccines are expected.
Quebecers should, in fact, expect another vaccine campaign in the fall, though what form it will take is still uncertain, said Longtin.
NUMBERS SHOW VIRUS STILL WIDELY CIRCULATING
The update came as the province logged a decrease in overall hospitalizations. As of Wednesday morning, 2,176 people were in hospital due to the virus, 19 fewer than the day before.
While testing is limited to certain at-risk populations, Wednesday’s 11.6 per cent positivity rate suggests the virus is still widely circulating in the province.
There were also 7,586 health-care workers absent from work due to the coronavirus.
On the weekend, Quebec marked its 15,000th death from COVID-19.
In a later press release, the province explained more about the reasoning behind some of the masking rules that remain.
“The obligation to wear a mask in public transport is being maintained because of the difficulty passengers have in managing the distances between them,” it said.
“It should also be noted that for many people, these services remain their only possible means of transportation.”
— With files from The Canadian Press and CTV’s Luca Caruso-Moro
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