Quebec gyms and spas will be allowed to reopen at half capacity as of Feb. 14, along with sports and artistic activities for groups of up to 25 people, Premier François Legault announced Tuesday.
Gyms and other fitness centers have been closed in the province since late December, when they were shuttered in order to limit the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
With hospitalizations continuing to trend down and more health-care workers back on the job, Legault said it is the right time to lift more measures and to “establish a balance between physical health and mental health.”
Several gyms across Quebec protested their ongoing closures, with some illegally opening their doors last Sunday.
“We see that people are getting impatient, Quebecers are fed up,” Legault said at a news conference alongside Health Minister Christian Dubé and the province’s interim public health director, Dr. Luc Boileau.
Legault said he fears the “disruption of social peace” and is scrapping a proposed tax on unvaccinated Quebecers.
The tax, which was announced in January by the premier, would have imposed a monetary penalty on Quebecers who did not get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Legault reiterated Tuesday that data shows unvaccinated people are much more likely to end up in hospital and are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, we can’t go further and announce the relaxation of any other measures,” Legault said, adding he’s waiting for higher vaccination rates to lift more measures.
“Only 61 percent of adults have received their third dose,” he said. “We have to increase this ratio. The third dose is very important to protect ourselves against Omicron.”
Monday, restaurant dining rooms were allowed to reopen at half capacity. Cinemas and theaters are scheduled to reopen this coming Monday, Feb. 7, with certain capacity restrictions.
Boileau said decisions are being made based on the Omicron variant’s increased transmissibility compared to the Delta variant.
“Right now, we’re looking at phases of [loosening] the measures to make sure it will not automatically induce a high rate of high-risk contact, ” Boileau said.
“In bars, we have a lot of experience with those places and unfortunately, those are places where risk of transmission of the virus is very high. ”
Boileau said he expects bars will be allowed to reopen in the near future as the situation improves and urged people to get a booster shot.
Too soon for 3-dose passport
Last week, Quebec’s junior health minister, Lionel Carmant, announced a plan to reach more than 500,000 adult Quebecers who remain unvaccinated. He said adding pop-up clinics, a hotline to speak with health-care professionals about their concerns, and other outreach programs will allow the province to make inroads in the next few weeks.
On Tuesday, the province announced Carmant also set up a team to identify neighborhoods in regions of Quebec where the vaccination rate is lowest in order to allocate resources where necessary. Teams will be going door-to-door to offer at-home vaccination, or to encourage people to make an appointment.
Last month, Quebec announced that the province would be expanding its vaccination passport system to require three doses, but the health minister says it’s still too soon to announce a timeline to impose it.
“I’ve always said that we couldn’t provide a date because we don’t know when people would have had the opportunity to get this third dose,” Dubé said.
Dubé says once all Quebecers have been given the chance to get a third dose, “we’ll revisit it.” Currently, two doses are sufficient to be considered adequately vaccinated.
But the guidelines for recovered COVID-19 patients were changed last week, with Quebec saying they should now wait two months to get boosted and not as soon as symptoms subside, as previously directed.
Interim public health director Boileau says everyone should get the booster shot, but people who have a confirmed positive COVID test can wait eight to 12 weeks.
For those who had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, but didn’t have a positive test, “you can’t wait to get that third dose,” Boileau said.
Reopening is like starting ‘from scratch’: gym manager
Rozel Gonzales, owner of Energie Encorps, says she is “ecstatic” to be able to teach in-person yoga classes again in two weeks. She has been conducting classes online since the last wave of restrictions.
“I’m in the business of helping people, not little boxes on Zoom,” she said.
Gonzales says working in the fitness industry has been challenging and feels as though the provincial government has treated her and other workers “like a yo-yo.”
Sari Haj Ibrahim, manager at Roc Fitness in Montreal’s West Island, agrees, saying closing and reopening gets tough when you’re a membership-based business.
“We almost have to restart from scratch compared to pre-COVID,” said Ibrahim, citing substantial drops in customers with each closure.
Ibrahim is worried this reopening doesn’t signal the end of pandemic lockdowns for the fitness industry. He says another closure would lead to his gym shutting down indefinitely.
“We can’t keep operating this way, opening and closing, it just doesn’t make sense.”