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Quebec orders 8 p.m. curfew beginning Saturday, for 4 weeks

MONTREAL (AP) — Quebec’s premier announced Wednesday that he is imposing a provincewide 8 p.m. curfew beginning Saturday as a way to curb surging coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

The province will become the first in Canada to impose a curfew for addressing the pandemic.

Premier Francois Legault spoke of the need to take drastic action as he announced a four-week curfew prohibiting people from leaving their homes between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they are going to work.

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Legault said officials have been struggling to understand why the province’s caseload has continued to spike despite existing restrictions, including the closure of schools. He said they concluded the virus was being spread through gatherings in residences, and the curfew is meant to prevent that.

The premier, however, said primary schools will open as scheduled on Jan. 11and high schools students will return to in-person learning the next week, on Jan. 18.

Legault said he wanted to give Quebecers an “electroshock” regarding the critical situation in the province’s hospitals, which he said are overburdened with COVID-19 patients.

Quebec reported 47 more deaths related to COVID-19, with 2,641 new cases of coronavirus infections and a rise in both hospitalizations and people in intensive care. It has recorded a total of 217,999 cases and 8,488 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Canada has recorded close to 625,000 coronavirus cases, with about 16,300 of them fatal. The bulk of cases have been in the country’s two most populous provinces — Ontario and Quebec, where conditions have been deteriorating rapidly in recent weeks.

Compounding the picture is the still small but growing number of cases related to a novel coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom that is believed to be even more contagious than the original.

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In her daily update, Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday that the appearance of new variants is more reason to scrap all but absolutely necessary travel.

Nevertheless, Transport Minister Marc Garneau lifted the ban on inbound flights from the U.K. A negative coronavirus test will be required to board planes to Canada starting this week.

Ontario, which is Canada’s most populous province, reported 37 more COVID-19 deaths along with 3,266 new confirmed coronavirus cases. Hospitals in the province, particularly in southern Ontario, warned that intensive care units were being strained. Of the roughly 1,463 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals, more than 360 were in intensive care.

A hospital in London, Ontario, said it had started to store bodies in a mobile unit after its morgue reached capacity. A hospital in nearby Windsor said it had been storing bodies in a trailer unit the last two weeks.

David Musyj, CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital, said funeral homes were being strained by a “substantial” number of deaths in the area due in large part to COVID-19.