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Threat of Variants and Possible Third Wave Keep Greater Montreal Dining Rooms Closed

But, restaurants will reopen in the rest of Quebec as of Monday, March 8

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Large swaths of Quebec will be transitioning to the province’s orange coronavirus alert level on March 8, meaning more of its dining rooms will be reopening at limited capacity. The region of Greater Montreal, which comprises the off-island, surrounding areas of Laval, Laurentides, Lanaudière, and Montérégie, is the sole exception to this development.

“Public health authorities tell us there will be an increase in new cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks, so we must keep these regions in red zones,” Quebec premier François Legault said in a press conference held on Wednesday, March 3, alongside health minister Christian Dubé and public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda.

Legault warned that despite feeling cautiously optimistic about a decline in COVID-19 cases, followed by a current 10-day plateau, the city may be on the precipice of a third wave, spawned by a more pernicious British variant of the virus. On top of that, he warned of the still-unknown impact of the easing of certain restrictions (not including indoor dining, which has been banned since October 1) in Montreal during the March break.

As a result, current restrictions in Montreal will remain in place for the coming weeks, including limiting restaurants to takeout- and delivery-only service. In orange zones, restaurants are permitted to reopen. However, certain restrictions apply, including spacing tables two meters apart and limiting them to two adults, from the same household bubble or not, plus their minor-aged children. The government is also requesting businesses to keep a registry of guests for contact tracing in case of an outbreak.

Despite that stark difference in restrictions and case numbers inside and outside Montreal, authorities say they aren’t planning to erect roadblocks to prevent someone in a red zone from, say, driving to an orange zone to eat out at a restaurant. Yet, a recent report from CBC shows that Montreal spring breakers have travelled much further — to British Columbia — to do as much, as well as to ski and snowboard.

Earlier on Wednesday, Montreal’s public health director Mylène Drouin confirmed that 15 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the city are linked to new, more-contagious variants, and warned of a possible spike to come as early as late March. In yesterday evening’s news conference, Dubé warned of a situation where the province will once again see 2,000 to 3,000 cases per day.

At this point, it seems the government’s goal is to make as much headway on the province’s mass vaccination plan as possible before that upswing arrives so that the most vulnerable are protected. So far, an estimated 35 percent of Montreal residents 80 or over, and 11 percent of those aged 70 to 79 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Meanwhile, restaurant workers don’t seem primed to get theirs anytime soon, leaving some in the industry hesitant to get on board with calls demanding an easing of restrictions.

“We are still in a race against the clock with the March break and the variants on one side, and the vaccine on the other,” Legault said Wednesday evening. “But we definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel.”