(Reuters) -Canada’s Ontario and Quebec announced fresh measures to combat COVID-19 on Thursday as the country faces a rise in cases that has forced tens of thousands into isolation, made tests difficult to access and burdened its healthcare sector.
Quebec, Canada’s second-most populous province, will ban private gatherings and dining out, as well as impose a night curfew from New Year’s Eve in an escalation of curbs to rein in rapidly rising coronavirus cases due to the Omicron variant.
“Our experts tell us that there’s a risk that we won’t be able to treat all those who need it in the coming weeks,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault told reporters at a briefing. “This is why I’m announcing new restrictions starting tomorrow.”
Legault said indoor sports would be halted, and places of worship will be shut, except for funerals which up to 25 people will be allowed to attend.
Ontario, home to Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, announced new measures to take effect on Friday, shortening the isolation period for vaccinated individuals with COVID-19 to five days from the onset of symptoms, the province’s chief medical officer, Kieran Moore, told reporters at a briefing.
Ontario residents, with proper masking and physical distancing, would be allowed to stop isolating after five days if their symptoms resolve or if they are improving for at least 24 hours, Moore said.
The province, Canada’s largest, will also limit free PCR tests to the most vulnerable cases. Schools, which were expected to reopen on Monday after a winter break, will stay shut for two additional days for authorities to implement preventive measures against coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Quebec, which is home to Canada’s second-largest city Montreal, said it would allow some essential healthcare workers to continue working instead of isolating at home after testing positive to prevent staff shortages from crippling healthcare services.
Provinces across Canada have been reporting new daily COVID-19 case records as the highly infectious Omicron variant takes hold. On Thursday, Quebec reported 14,188 new coronavirus cases, while Ontario reported 13,807 cases.
Ontario is also starting to offer a fourth vaccine shot to residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes and other older adults living in groups three months after their third dose.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler, Dan Grebler and Karishma Singh)