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December 9, 2020 – Federal and provincial government update on the COVID-19 pandemic

Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the Canadian and Québec governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

First vaccine approved by Health Canada

Health Canada officials approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 today, which opens the door to supply, distribution and vaccination across the country.

The director of the Bureau of Medical Science at Health Canada, Dr. Marc Berthiaume, stated that the process for approving the vaccine was thorough, with a comprehensive assessment of the data satisfying the Canadian public health organization’s strict safety, effectiveness and quality standards.

The vaccine is around 95% effective. The only drawback is that the current data does not make it possible to determine the long-term side effects of the vaccine or how long it offers protection against COVID-19. Current analyses will possibly answer these questions down the road.

Health Canada concluded that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the possible risks.

Vaccinations starting Monday

Québec’s minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, stated that Québec is ready to roll out its mass vaccination campaign, which will start Monday in two residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) in Montréal and Québec City.

Some 55,000 doses of the vaccine will be received by January 4, making it possible to vaccinate 27,500 people. Residents of CHSLDs and seniors’ residences as well as other facilities that offer care services will be the first to be vaccinated.

Premier Legault repeated that 70% of those who have died from COVID-19 lived in CHSLDs and seniors’ residences.

If the supplies are received as planned, six million doses will be available to vaccinate three million people in Québec by March 31. Moreover, if deliveries are equitably distributed in January, February and March, Mr. Legault said that some 650,000 people could be vaccinated in January in CHSLDs and seniors’ residences.

If this is the case, Mr. Legault said “the situation will improve greatly in Québec,” because these are the people who are most at risk of developing serious complications once infected with COVID-19, who end up in the hospital, in intensive care, and who are the most likely to die from the coronavirus.

Increasing fines for those breaking the health rules

The spread of COVID-19 is continuing to increase in Québec and the government will be adopting a more repressive approach to those who do not follow the rules of social distancing, mask wearing, handwashing and the ban on gatherings.

The Québec Alert Ready system was used this afternoon to send a message out simultaneously to all television and radio networks and all cell phones and fixed-line phones. The goal was to remind Quebecers of the health guidelines to be followed during the pandemic and the consequences of failing to do so.

“The warning stage is over. Now, we’ll be handing out fines. […] There will be no more excuses,” said Mr. Legault.

Members of the police force have been instructed to be more present and to issue fines instead of warnings. Fines will range from $1,000 to $6,000 per infraction per person.

The premier explained that it is unacceptable that a minority is putting the majority’s health at risk.

Voluntary closing of businesses

François Legault repeated his request that all businesses that are able to do so close their doors and encourage telework, from December 17 to January 4, to “break” the second wave of the pandemic, which is having a major impact around the world, including in Québec.

Hospitals are having to reassign resources because there are too many hospitalizations and people in intensive care due to COVID-19.

Another lockdown still possible

Premier Legault hopes to not have to move toward another lockdown in Québec, like the one in the spring, when so little was known about the virus. This is no longer the case and now it is possible to control the scope of the contagion.

He said that to do this, the population must follow the health rules. “This is a global challenge. We’re seeing this a little all over the world. The number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths is high.”

The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, explained the phenomenon of people being more lax about following the rules, here and around the world, because there is a general fatigue with the health measures.

“If people follow the rules, there will be no problem. But if people fail to do so, we’ll have to go further (with lockdown measures). Quebecers hold the solution,” said the premier.

Health funding

The meeting of all provincial and territorial government leaders with Prime Minister Trudeau regarding health funding will be held tomorrow. Mr. Legault, as chair of the First Ministers’ Conference, plans to call once again for a substantial increase in the federal government’s recurring financial contribution to the provinces’ healthcare systems.