Quebec is closing entertainment venues, among them casinos, in an effort to stem the rapid growth of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Canadian province. The new restrictions were announced on Monday by Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube, who warned further measures against the pandemic may come soon.
The new measures came only hours after previously announced restrictions took effect, which mandated venues such as casinos, bars and restaurants to reduce capacity by half. But now, Dube described the situation as “critical,” and announced entertainment venues were to close as of 5 p.m. Monday.
“With the increase of cases and hospitalizations, we must put in place new measures,” Dube told a virtual news conference, according to The Canadian Press. He further added that half of the dedicated COVID-19 beds in the province’s hospitals are now occupied.
The Quebec Health Minister also urged Quebecers not to get discouraged and to stay strong amid the changing situation. “We are eight million people in Quebec, and we are at war,” he said. “It is war right now against the virus.” Remote work, which before was recommended by authorities, is now mandatory if possible.
Following the provincial order, Loto-Québec announced that casino properties in the province will be temporarily closed down. VLTs, bingo, and Kinzo offerings at bars will also be suspended under the new measures.
À la suite des mesures annoncées aujourd’hui par le gouvernement et conformément à son engagement à respecter les mesures dictées par la Santé publique, Loto-Québec suspend temporairement plusieurs de ses activités pour une durée indéterminée.— LotoQuebec (@LotoQuebec) December 20, 2021
Détails: https://t.co/quwpf2tnHd pic.twitter.com/4frm4xC0ny
The Crown corporation intends to transfer most of its employees to customer services, a decision also taken during the last lockdowns, in an effort to keep most of the staff members while also providing them with work during the closure.
While it currently remains unknown for how long casinos will have to remain closed, the president and CEO of Loto-Québec, Jean-François Bergeron, said that the company now knows how to react after having already faced similar measures in the past.
The new mandates are being enforced amid the arrival and spread of the Omicron variant, which has completely changed plans for the province. According to Dube, vaccines that offered 70% protection against symptomatic infection from the Delta variant are believed to offer only 30% protection against Omicron.
Dube also warned that more restrictions may come to Quebec soon. “We’re doing our best every day to adjust,” he said. “Tonight we’re having a meeting with our experts and we’ll have additional information, and based on that additional information, we’ll make, again, tough decisions.”
Along with these new restrictions, the province is also continuing to expand access to third doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Booster shots to people 65 and over have been opened up on Monday, as well as to family caregivers of people who live in long-term care centers and first responders.