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Canada: People are 'fed up': Quebec follows Ontario's lead and loosens COVID-19 restrictions

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The Quebec government announced the loosening of some COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday, following the lead of Ontario and other provinces amid indications the Omicron surge may be peaking in some areas.

  People are 'fed up': Quebec follows Ontario's lead and loosens COVID-19 restrictions © Provided by The Canadian Press

Quebec Premier François Legault said the province would adopt a go-slow approach, which will see gathering limits raised on Monday for private functions, as well as the reopening of restaurants at 50 per cent capacity and a resumption of some sports activities for those under 18. Other restrictions will be eased for religious, entertainment and sports venues on Feb. 7.

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"We are all aware that a lot of Quebecers are fed up, they're fed up with the restrictions. It’s been 22 months," Legault told a news conference in Montreal. But he added that any reopening has to be cautious and gradual. "We have to take it easy," he said.

Last Thursday, the Ontario government confirmed it would start easing health protection orders by boosting the size of social gatherings and reopening businesses such as restaurants, gyms and cinemas with capacity limits — part of a plan to lift all constraints by mid-March.

Premier Doug Ford said the phased reopening was in response to public health indicators showing "that the worst is behind us." The premier pointed to a reduced rate of hospital admissions and a declining percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

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The number of people with COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals, however, went up Tuesday to 4,008 from 3,861 on Monday. The number of people in intensive care also rose slightly to 626 from 615 — and the province reported 64 new deaths.

In Quebec, health officials reported 85 more deaths linked to COVID-19, and the province's Health Department reported that hospitalizations fell by 21, to 3,278. The number of people in intensive care remained unchanged at 263.

Meanwhile, GoFundMe has frozen the $4.2 million raised over the past 11 days by organizers of a truckers protest that is calling for an end to vaccine mandates for truck drivers who cross the Canada-U.S. border. GoFundMe has said the money will remain locked until it receives documentation about distribution of the cash.

The western separatist Maverick Party set up the GoFundMe page, saying the money would be used to cover the cost of accommodation, food and fuel for trucks taking part in the "Freedom Convoy," which is expected to arrive in Ottawa this weekend.

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The convoy set off from Vancouver on Sunday and passed through Regina late Monday with 1,200 rigs joining the procession, according to police.

The trucks later converged in nearby Balgonie, Sask., where a Calgary woman, who would only give her name as Delores, said the convoy was more than a protest against vaccine mandates. She said it's also about an "us versus them" mentality that applies to the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Under new rules, Canadian truckers must be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine when they cross the border from the United States.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has said the mandate is unnecessary because truckers have been essential throughout the pandemic and have safely crossed the border long before vaccines and rapid tests were widely available.

The vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers came into effect after an exemption ended Jan. 15. The U.S. brought in its own vaccine mandate for truckers on Saturday. The Canadian Trucking Alliance says 90 per cent of truck drivers are already vaccinated, and it has denounced the convoy.

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In Newfoundland and Labrador, public school students returned to school Tuesday after learning from home since Jan. 4, when the province's COVID-19 case counts were still spiking. All students were required to take two rapid tests before classes were to begin. Still, the province’s teachers association says its members feel it's not yet safe to open schools.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund has downgraded its forecast for the world economy this year, citing the spread of the Omicron variant, among other things.

The 190-country lending agency now forecasts the global economy will expand 4.4 per cent in 2022. That's down from an estimated 5.9 per cent last year and from the 4.9 per cent the IMF was forecasting for 2022 back in October.

The agency says the slump can also be attributed to higher energy prices, an uptick in inflation and financial strains in China.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.

-- With files from Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Mickey Djuric in Regina

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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