More than 8.5 million Canadians have been ordered to remain at home for New Year’s celebrations, with the provincial government of Quebec imposing a curfew and a ban on private gatherings amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced the policies on Thursday, saying they would come into effect on Friday – New Year’s Eve – and warning that a spike in coronavirus cases could overwhelm the region’s healthcare system.

“If we do nothing, there is a real risk that our hospitals will overflow over the next few weeks and that we will no longer be able to treat everyone,” he said in a tweet, later adding that officials had to “act quickly” and strike a “big blow” to the virus.

The curfew will extend from 10pm to 5am – the prime hours for new-year revelry – and anybody seen outside their home during those times will be asked by the authorities to explain where they are going. Violators could be fined between $1,000 and $6,000, according to local media reports. 

Covid-positive health workers may stay on job, Canadian province rules

Some exceptions to the ban on gatherings were allowed, however, including for those in need of a caregiver, or people living alone, who would be permitted to join another “family bubble.” Anyone seeking medical care, as well as essential workers and those traveling for “humanitarian reasons,” would also be exempt from the curfew. 

In addition, the government suspended all indoor sports and dining in Quebec on Thursday, and limited the capacity at places of worship to just 25, with the exception of funerals. 

Although Canada boasts fairly high vaccination rates, with around 76% of its population having been fully immunized against Covid-19, the rise of the Omicron strain has triggered alarm, with Quebec bearing the brunt of the current outbreak. The region’s full vaccination rate is just over the national average, at nearly 78%.

Legault has asserted that the province is now facing its “worst” weeks so far in the pandemic, and pointed to record-high daily infection numbers that are expected to exceed 16,000 on Friday alone. He acknowledged that “we’re all tired” of lockdowns, but insisted it was his “responsibility to protect” citizens by imposing the new restrictions.

Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, also lowered the capacity limits of some indoor venues on Thursday, due to concerns over Omicron, though it did not go nearly as far as its francophone neighbor with its virtual ban on public New Year’s Eve celebrations.

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