‘More harm than good’: Academics sign letter condemning Quebec curfew

MONTREAL – In a letter to the Quebec government published Sunday, a group of 13 specialists made their demands clear: no more curfews.

“Will the government continue to pull Quebec apart from the rest of Canada every winter by banning the free movement of people when it gets dark?” the letter reads.

The letter was signed by a mix of specialists, ranging from sociologists to legal experts.

The authors of the letter argue that last year’s curfew, based on data from 2020 and 2021, did not play a significant role in slowing the spread of COVID-19

In 2021, the provincial government issued a curfew that began in January – during the peak of the second wave – and ended in May. During this time, the total number of daily COVID cases decreased significantly.

‘It shows observational studies [the curfew] was helpful in preventing travel and assemblies at a time when the number of cases in the general population remained high, “the Quebec Department of Health (MSSS) said in a statement Friday.

But according to a study entitled “CONNECT”, conducted by the Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ), the degree of social gatherings in the home remained relatively consistent both before and after the curfew was introduced.

In November 2020, the average number of a person’s daily household contacts was 1.7. This figure rose slightly in December to 1.8 and fell back to 1.7 for the months of January, February and March.

Referring to this data, the letter writers say that although the curfew may be correlated with a decrease in cases, it is not necessarily cause of this case.

“The government has never demonstrated the effectiveness of the curfew. Instead, it carefully avoided discussing numbers, rather by using an affirmative bias sophistication: The curfew worked because the number of cases fell or fewer people went outside during the night.”

INSPQ data

The average number of daily contacts over time is represented in a graph from INSPQ. (INSPQ)

WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?

Although studies on the effectiveness of curfews are sparse, research from France seems to suggest that curfews are correlated with the slowdown in the virus, even when shutdown measures such as closing bars and restaurants are not in place.

The study, published on the pre-print server with Rxiv, found that the spread of COVID-19 was slowed down between October 24 and October 29, when 54 territories in France issued a curfew. The transmission was further slowed down from October 30, when the government implemented a nationwide shutdown, which included the closure of unnecessary businesses and a total ban on private gatherings.

Interestingly, the curfew was particularly effective in slowing the spread among those aged 60 and over, ie the more vulnerable population. In contrast, the youngest age group – ages 0 to 19 – experienced fewer case numbers when the lockdown measures were implemented.

Although this information seems to suggest that a curfew may be an effective tool in combating COVID-19, the authors of the study point out that inconsistent COVID measures across France can complicate matters.

“We find that curfews have not necessarily been introduced in wards where acceleration [of the virus] was the largest, making it more difficult to make crucial comparisons of the effectiveness of COVID-19 measures, ”it explains.

It should be noted, however, that no similar research has been conducted in Quebec a study, also published on medRxiv, found that last year’s curfew significantly reduced night mobility. However, this study does not indicate whether this reduction is associated with fewer daily cases of the virus.

SIDE EFFECTS

In addition to questioning the effectiveness of curfews, the letter also expressed concern about the emotional well-being of Quebecers, who may be suffering from “pandemic fatigue,” and of vulnerable groups such as the homeless and people with disabilities.

“The current collective effort to narrow the curve of the fifth wave will have to allow people to enjoy life in some way with activities and walks in small groups in safe outdoor environments,” the authors say.

“Deprives [Quebecers] from the opportunity to be outdoors in the evening and at night, after work or school, is a very bad idea as it can encourage people to take risks indoors secretly. “

The MSSS has recognized studies representing the “negative impacts on lifestyle” that curfews may have, but did not specify what those impacts were.

“The pros and cons of all interventions are assessed, and the interventions recommended by public health are primarily based on health considerations, in addition to managing risks and threats to the population,” the statement said.

MSSS has not yet responded to further requests for comment.

– With files from CTV’s Rachel Lau.

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