Legault says he’s confident Quebec-Ontario boundary will reopen in ‘next few days’ Meredith Bond

The boundary between Quebec and Ontario, closed since April to reduce COVID-19 transmission, will likely reopen within days, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Thursday.

“We are in discussion with the Ontario government, and I am confident that in the next few days we will be able to open the borders,” Legault said in Quebec City.

The Ontario government had recently extended its ban on non-essential travel from Quebec and Manitoba until at least June 16. Stephen Warner, spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General, would not comment Thursday on Legault’s positive outlook about reopening travel between the two provinces.

“The order relating to the closure of Ontario’s land and water borders with Manitoba and Quebec remains in place,” Warner said in an email. “We will communicate before its termination.”

As for the border between Canada and the United States, Legault said discussions with the federal government about reopening it to regular travel are ongoing.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Wednesday that fully vaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents who test negative for COVID-19 will likely soon be exempt from two weeks of quarantine on return to Canada.

Meanwhile, Legault admitted Thursday that his government has had trouble implementing its plan to accelerate the timeline for second COVID-19 vaccine doses. The government had said people could rebook their vaccination appointments after it shortened the interval between first and second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to eight weeks from 16.

But on Monday, Health Minister Christian Dube said only people who had received the Pfizer vaccine would be able to reschedule their appointments because of limited supplies of the Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

On Thursday, Dube said the government was working on updating the software for its online booking portal. He said the program had difficulties recognizing the identities of people who had already received one dose.

“I would say the best way is to go directly to the vaccination site where you received the first dose, and when they will correct the information to make sure it’s the right person, there are 99 per cent of chances you will be able to get the second dose at that time,” Dube said.

The health minister also said the government estimates it will take until March 2023 for surgery wait lists to return to pre-pandemic levels. About 150,000 surgeries have been delayed in the province, he said, adding that the number doesn’t take into account people who have yet to add their names to the wait list.

Dube said he couldn’t provide a detailed timeline.

“Before putting out a detailed plan, we need to stabilize the situation,” he said, adding that he hoped to get a more realistic portrait of an official waiting list by the fall. Dube said he wanted to start reducing the surgery backlog in August in order to give health-care workers a summer break.

“People have to understand all the challenges our health-care system has faced since the start of the pandemic,” Dube said. “The system is tired, the staff have done an incredible job. Our health-care workers must rest this summer, and it wouldn’t be respectful to do otherwise.”

Quebec reported 189 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and two more deaths, none of which occurred in the past 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by six, to 251, and 64 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.

The province said 84,936 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered Wednesday. About 67.2 per cent of Quebecers have received at least one dose.

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