New Year’s Eve was canceled in Quebec, or at least that’s how many residents feel after the government imposed a 10 p.m. curfew that will go into effect on Friday night, just as the revelry was set to begin.
The move, which provoked an angry backlash, was the latest attempt by the province to tame the surging Omicron variant as cases rise and hospitals come under intensifying pressure. The government also banned private indoor gatherings beyond members of the same household, forcing many Quebecers to cancel their New Year’s Eve plans.
Under the curfew, which goes into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, Quebecers will be required to remain indoors from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and those who break the rules face fines as high as $4,750. (There are some exemptions, such as dog walkers and essential workers in hospitals.)
Mr. Legault said Thursday that the measures were necessary to protect the province’s health care system.
“Our experts tell us that there’s a risk that we won’t be able to treat all those who need it in the coming weeks,” he said at a news conference, adding that hospitalizations doubled to more than 900 in the past week.
Case counts also hit a new high this week: Quebec reported 14,188 cases on Thursday and nine deaths, according to local public health data.
The backlash was palpable on social media as many criticized Mr. Legault for restrictions that some perceived as unnecessarily punishing during a fraught holiday period when travel plans had already been upended.
More than 78 percent of Quebec residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, above the national vaccination rate of 76 percent.
Éric Duhaime, leader of the opposition Conservative Party in Quebec, criticized the government in a post on Twitter for failing to provide a scientific study to justify the curfew. Others said the curfew — the only one that will be in place in a Canadian province — would undermine peoples’ mental health and violate civil liberties.
Critics also accused the government of overcompensating after it had been too lax in implementing health measures. For example, some supermarkets have not maintained social distancing at checkout lines and many shops have not been vetting vaccine passports.
The public uproar was particularly acute because it was the second time Quebec had imposed a curfew; the last one, in January, lasted five months.
Canada is among the countries that have seen the biggest surge in new virus cases, which have more than doubled in a week to an average of more than 25,000.
Among other new restrictions, restaurants are to be closed for indoor dining, the start of in-person elementary and high school classes has been delayed until Jan. 17 and places of worship are to be closed except for funerals.
Mr. Legault said the restrictions were aimed at protecting the unvaccinated from themselves, given the high rate of hospitalization among those who have refused be inoculated. That, in turn, prompted criticism from people who said they had respected public health rules and were being unfairly punished for the irresponsible behavior of minority of Quebecers.