People walk by a storefront window in Montreal, on Feb. 6, 2021.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebec reported its lowest daily infection count in weeks on Monday as non-essential retail stores, personal-care salons and museums reopened across the province following a strict lockdown.

In six, less populated regions, including the Gaspe peninsula and the Saguenay area north of Quebec City, gyms and in-person dining were also permitted to reopen.

Quebec reported 853 new cases of COVID-19 and 17 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two that occurred in the past 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose by six, to 969, and 160 people were in intensive care, an increase of two.

When will Canada’s general vaccination for COVID-19 begin? The federal and provincial rollout plans so far

Universities and junior colleges were allowed to partially reopen on Monday. Classes across most of the province were permitted to resume at 50 per cent capacity, while in the six outlying regions, they could open fully as long as physical distancing was maintained.

And while the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has dropped in recent weeks, the government has said it’s still too early to remove measures such as the nighttime, provincewide curfew.

The six, less-populated regions moved into the lower, “orange” pandemic-alert level on Monday, and the curfew’s start was pushed back to 9:30 p.m. The rest of the province, including Montreal and Quebec City, remain in the “red” level and under an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

Quebec is also allowing people across the province to participate in outdoor activities with people outside their households. Residents in most of the province will be able to meet outside with up to three people from other households, while in orange zones, the limit will be increased to eight.

Indoor gatherings are still prohibited, and bars remain closed. The government continues to require anyone who can work from home to do so.

Restaurants in orange zones will only be allowed to seat two adults and their children at each table, and reservations will be mandatory to facilitate contact tracing and to prevent people from outside the region from travelling for a dinner out.

The large number of COVID-19 infections in some places makes it more likely for new variants of the virus to emerge. Science Reporter Ivan Semeniuk explains how vaccines may not be as effective against these new strains, making it a race to control and track the spread of variants before they become a dangerous new outbreak. The Globe and Mail

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