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MONTREAL - Quebec will offer free rapid COVID-19 tests for residents to take home from the pharmacy starting Monday, among other new measures meant to control the Omicron variant as the province continues to break all-time highs for its daily tally of cases.
The Quebec Association of Pharmacy Distributors said in a statement Sunday that more than 200,000 rapid tests kits will be available for anyone 14 and over on Monday - or Tuesday at the latest for remote regions - across 1,900 pharmacies in the province.
“Despite the very tight deadlines, the challenges related to the weather, and the fact that the first rapid tests intended for pharmacies arrived in our warehouses in Quebec, for the most part, less than 48 hours ago, our members are determined to ensure efficient logistics so that as many Quebecers as possible have access to a kit before the start of the holiday season,'' said Albert Falardeau, the association's president.
The provincial government pledged last week to issue free rapid tests to the public, hoping to have more than 800,000 kits distributed by the start of the holiday season. Each kit contains five rapid tests.
The measure is part of a series of restrictions being reintroduced on Monday, in order to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
Bars, restaurants, places of worship and entertainment venues across Quebec will be required to operate at 50 per cent capacity. Karaoke and dancing will be banned once again, one month after the restriction was lifted. Gyms and stores will also have reduced capacity, and all tournaments and competitions are suspended.
Measures will also be tightened in long-term care homes, known in Quebec as CHSLDs, and private seniors' residences as of Monday.
In CHSLDs, only one visitor will be allowed at once, for a maximum of four per day, while five visitors are permitted in private seniors' residences at the same time, each day.
Access to the common areas will be prohibited for visitors in both cases.
On the eve of COVID-19 measures taking effect, some bars and clubs in Montreal and the capital city reportedly held New Year and “last dance'' parties over the weekend.
Videos on social media showed many people without face masks and no distancing at Kampai Garden, downtown Montreal, celebrating New Year's Eve in advance.
Dagobert Nightclub in Quebec City, had also invited clients for “one last dance'' on Sunday, before cancelling the event after facing criticism.
Melanie Otis, a spokesperson for the provincial capital, said in a statement it was very worrying to see establishments throwing parties hours before measures would come in effect.
“In the current epidemiological context and with the presence of the extremely transmissible Omicron variant, we recommend that the population be extremely careful and immediately implement the recommendations for reducing contacts,'' Otis said.
Meanwhile, Quebec reported 3,846 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, setting an all-time high for the province's daily tally for the second time in three days.
Quebec also broke its record on Friday, reporting 3,768 diagnoses, compared to the previous high of 3,127 back in January.
Health officials said there are three more deaths linked to the virus, and hospitalizations have increased to 376 - a jump of 29 patients - with 79 people in intensive care, an increase of five.
The seven-day rolling average for cases in the province is 2,820.
According to the Health Department, 88 per cent of Quebecers aged five and older have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 81 per cent have received at least two doses.
Of the new infections, 2,530 involved people who had received two doses within at least the past seven days.
The government will expand the COVID-19 booster shot as of Monday to people 65 and over. Until now, eight per cent of eligible Quebecers - people over 70, health-care workers and the immunocompromised - have received the third dose.