COVID-19 update – Entire Outaouais on lockdown, Pontiac cases jump, borders closed

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Allyson Beauregard

QUÉBEC – On April 13, Québec Premier François Legault announced “special emergency lockdown measures” (on top of those in effect in other red zones) in Québec City, Chaudière-Appalaches, and Outaouais. These are extended for an additional week until April 25 and apply to the entire Outaouais region; previously in the Outaouais, only Gatineau and MRC des Collines were affected, while the MRC Pontiac was exempt.
As a result, in these regions all non-essential businesses were closed and the curfew reverted to 8 p.m. as of April 14. Schools closed on April 15 and transitioned to online learning.
Cases have jumped in the Pontiac in recent weeks, which was highlighted at a press conference the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSSO) held April 14. “In Pontiac, which was a very stable area for a long time, we are seeing a major outbreak … transmission is rapid,” said Dr. Brigitte Pinard, director of public health. “We hope to see a quick turnaround, but it could continue. We are in constant discussion with Pontiac authorities and the warden about this
situation,” she continued.
As of April 14, Mansfield registered 24 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, Fort Coulonge – 16, Shawville – 15, Campbell’s Bay – 6, and Bristol, Bryson, Ile-du-Grand-Calumet, L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, Otter Lake, Sheenboro, Thorne and Waltham – 5 cases or less.
On April 16, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that starting April 19, Ontario’s borders (QC and MB) would be closed with checkpoints set up. Exceptions will be made for people travelling for work, medical care or transporting goods. Quebec announced a border closure to Ontario hours later.
Added restrictions
Legault announced a number of added restrictions for regions in regular red
and orange zones on April 6 amid rising infection numbers, particularly those linked to variants.
Masks are now required outdoors when accompanied by one or more people from different households when social distancing isn’t maintained. “In a situation where one is certain to always stay more than two meters away, such as tennis or golf, or
sitting in a park, it’s not necessary to wear a mask. A couple who do not live at the same address, but who maintain an intimate relationship, do not have to wear a mask. Nor does a single person who has joined a family bubble. The same thing happens when two people walk together, but at a safe distance,” Legault clarified in a social media post on April 14.
For regular red zones: travel to a yellow zone is prohibited, gyms are closed, a maximum of 25 people are allowed in places of worship (down from 250), and indoor sports facilities are closed (except swimming pools, arenas and sports played individually or one-on-one like tennis).
In regular red zone schools, students in secondary three to five returned to alternating between in-class and online learning, no face-to-face extracurricular activities are allowed, and distance education is required at the college and university levels. Elementary students from grades one to six must wear procedural masks inside the school and on school buses. Secondary students must wear procedural masks at all times while at school and on the bus.
In orange zones: travel to yellow zones is prohibited, masks must be worn at all times and a registry kept in gyms, and a maximum of 100 people are allowed in places of worship (max 25 for funerals and weddings). In schools, students from grade one to secondary five must wear procedural masks while inside the school and on the bus and extracurricular activities are limited to class bubbles.
The curfew remains the same in both regular red and orange zones; between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Mass vaccination
CISSSO opened vaccination to Outaouais residents age 60 and older on April 6.
Phase two of the vaccination of health and social service workers began April 11. It concerns only personnel who are in direct contact with clients who were not previously targeted for vaccination: those employed in the private sector (ex: dental clinics, pharmacies, optometry, psychology clinics, physiotherapy, etc.); and community workers who are in contact with high-risk patients.
As of April 14, those in hospital with chronic illness (on dialysis, transplant recipients, those undergoing cancer treatment, etc.) and other essential workers in environments with a high risk of outbreaks (teachers, daycare providers, remote mining workers, public safety personnel, etc.) are also eligible.
“Individuals will be required to bring proof of employment to their vaccination appointment,” said CISSSO.
A number of walk-in vaccination clinics were set up across the province on April 8 offering solely the Astra Zeneca vaccine for those 55 and older. Currently, the only site in the Outaouais is at the the Palais des Congrès in Hull (open same days as regular vaccination, starting at 8 a.m.). However, it’s also available by appointment at a number of pharmacies throughout the Outaouais region, including Ahmad Hassan Pharmacien Inc. and Familiprix Marc Aufranc in Shawville as well as the Campbell’s Bay RA Hall. Appointments can be made through Québec.ca/vaccinCOVID.
Events cancelled
Pandemic uncertainties have again led to the cancellation of several of the Pontiac’s biggest annual events: Ladysmith Oktoberfest, Fort-Coulonge/ Mansfield Country Festival, and the Shawville Lions Country Jamboree.
However, the Pontiac Agricultural Society (PAS) remains hopeful. “[We’re] reviewing opportunities to hold events on the grounds in 2021. We acknowledge that priority must be given to the health and safety of everyone. We continue to endeavor to develop a program for Labour Day weekend within the limits of all government and MAPAQ guidelines. We remain optimistic that some programming and events are possible for 2021. Stay tuned for more information!” wrote the PAS in an online statement.