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January 11, 2021 – Provincial government update on the COVID-19 pandemic

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

Critical situation in hospitals

Québec Premier François Legault stressed that there are “difficult decisions to be made” in hospitals to determine who will not receive care, given the increased number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and the shortage of healthcare staff.

Mr. Legault congratulated the vast majority of the population for respecting the exceptional measure of a curfew imposed for the first time in Québec, but added that this strict measure was necessary due to the “critical situation we are facing.”

Premier Legault said that he must protect two groups in particular, that is, healthcare workers and people 65 years of age and over, who represent 80% of hospitalizations and 95% of COVID-19-related deaths.

“I don’t want to stigmatize people who are 65 years old and over, but we must avoid contact with them,” said Mr. Legault, adding that Quebecers will be able to make up for this with even more frequent visits during the second period of the year, when the situation has improved.

Redeployment of staff in all hospitals

The demand for care and beds for COVID-19 patients is so high that all of Québec’s hospitals are in the process of redeploying staff, which means postponing surgeries, oncology treatments, tests and follow-up, explained the assistant deputy minister who heads university, medical, nursing and pharmaceutical affairs at the Ministère de la Santé, Dr. Lucie Opatrny.

The assistant deputy minister, Dr. Opatrny, explained that the health network is saturated because too many healthcare workers are absent and there is an increased demand for new services related to COVID-19, such as screening and tracing, vaccination clinics and the deployment of nurses to living environments.

In this context, offloading cases is becoming more and more difficult: “Unfortunately, some patients may suffer the consequences,” she said.

Despite the gravity of the situation, the assistant deputy minister pointed out that the network has still not reached the point of having to choose, when patients are admitted, who will receive care and who will not. “But we’re preparing for it on paper,” she said.

140,000 surgeries postponed

The assistant deputy minister explained that this redeployment will mean postponing 140,000 different types of surgeries for several months, and maybe years. Before the pandemic, 114,000 people were awaiting treatment.

Vaccination campaign up and running

The minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, noted that the vaccination campaign is running very smoothly and that the system in place will enable 250,000 vaccinations per week by February.

Half of the residents in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) have already been vaccinated, as well as one quarter of the 325,000 people in the province’s healthcare networks.

The intervention strategy, which is to vaccinate as many people as possible and put off the second mandatory inoculation by a few weeks, remains the same for the time being.

Premier Legault reiterated that this strategy is based on recommendations by the Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec. “We’re choosing solidarity to protect the greatest number of people,” said Mr.  Legault.

The manufacturer of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is apparently opposed to this type of strategy and could consider cutting off the supply. But Mr. Legault said that if this is the case, he will change the strategy to administering both doses of the vaccine within two weeks, as recommended.

Schools to reopen

Premier Legault responded to criticism from those who are opposed to children retuning to the classroom: “I think there are more advantages than disadvantages to taking this risk.” He added that in this context, what is even more important is that children not see their grandparents, because although they are not at high risk of contracting COVID-19, they could transmit the virus.

Santé Québec crash

The minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, revealed that Santé Québec has been grappling with a major computer breakdown for the last 48 hours, caused not by a cyberattack but due to its operating software. This system allows healthcare workers to access patient data, and to consult imaging reports.