With Quebec shattering records in Canada for daily increases of COVID-19 cases and rising hospitalizations due to the coronavirus, Premier François Legault announced further public health restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
The province said it will allow Quebecers to gather in groups of 10 people for the Christmas holiday. But as of Dec. 26, gatherings in private homes will be reduced to six people or two family bubbles.
The premier revealed a startling statistic during Wednesday evening’s news conference that illuminates how dire things are in Quebec: Thursday’s daily case count is expected to reach 9,000 new infections, according to Legault, breaking the record set a day earlier.
With people planning to gather for the holidays, the province is applying the new gathering limit to rental rooms in the tourism industry, as well as tables in restaurants. Guests at the table have to be from no more than two different residences. Exceptions are being made for weddings and funerals, which can allow up to 25 people.
“We will not hesitate in the next few days, if it is necessary, to add other measures,” Legault said, if the cases continue to rise.
The premier made the announcement with his health minister, Christian Dubé, and director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda.
The update from Legault comes as Quebec recorded more than 6,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and new modeling from Quebec’s public health institute that predicted hospitalizations could rise by 100 per day, depending on the severity of the new Omicron variant.
Even though less than 10 per cent of the adult population in Quebec is unvaccinated, they represent about half of all hospitalizations.
“So it’s very serious and regardless of the reason why you don’t want to be vaccinated, I am asking you, if you don’t do it for yourself, do it for others,” the premier said.
“Stay home because there’s a risk or greater risk that you will end up in the hospital sheet that day and that you will overwhelm our hospitals and perhaps stop some people from getting urgent care.”
For now, most of the cases in hospitals are Delta cases — the effect of Omicron has not yet been felt in the hospital network, according to Dubé, but health officials are monitoring the situation as they learn more about the new variant.
Quebec, along with other provinces, is facing a surge in demand for PCR testing as the highly-transmissible Omicron variant spreads like wildfire, but the demand has put a strain on health-care workers. In Montreal, residents have been waiting for hours in the cold to get tested, particularly in walk-in sites that offer testing. In some centres, the waiting period for an appointment to get tested extends into January 2022.
People still managed to get tested at record levels. On Tuesday, 50,000 tests were done, the premier said, adding that tests should be prioritized for people who have symptoms, as opposed to asymptomatic people who have only come in contact with someone who tested positive.
In another blow to the depleted health-care network, Dubé said the province has fired about 500 unvaccinated health-care workers who refused to get tested regularly before their shifts. This was done as a compromise after backing down on the threat of suspending workers who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
Trying to optimize limited resources, Quebec public health is scaling back on contact tracing, urging COVID positive people to inform their own contacts. “We’re shifting to a new paradigm: self-management of the illness,” said Dr. Arruda.
In the rat race of rapid tests, Quebecers have been scrambling to get their free tests from the provincial government, sometimes waiting in line for hours outside pharmacies hoping to use the tests in the lead up to the holidays.
More tests are on the way, Legault assured the public in his address. He said Quebec is expecting to receive 700,000 additional rapid tests this week from the federal government to replenish the stock on pharmacy store shelves.
The province is also moving ahead with opening up booster shots, as scheduled, to people 60 and older on Dec. 27, which is still more restrictive than other provinces that are offering third doses to people as young as 18.
However, Legault maintained that reserving booster shots for older people is the best way forward since in Quebec, people 60 and older represent about 70 per cent of hospitalizations, the premier said.
“So if I have the choice between [giving a booster to] somebody of 18 years old and somebody of 65 years old,” Legault said, “I prefer to go first with 65.”
Source: CTV News