January 19, 2021 – 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.
Ban on non-essential international travel
Québec Premier François Legault, after having done so privately, as he explained, asked the Canadian government publicly to ban all non-essential travel abroad.
Mr. Legault made this formal request with the approach of spring break, the same period last year that was the main catalyst in spreading the virus with the return of vacationers from abroad, and due to the detection of three new and much more contagious variants of the coronavirus, originating in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa.
According to the premier, the situation is no longer about hoping people will not travel for non-essential reasons. “Now is the time for action.”
If Canada does not take action, Québec is considering its own measures, despite the fact that international flights, as well as the Quarantine Act, are federal jurisdictions. According to Premier Legault, in addition to the negative test required before returning to Canada, an additional test upon arrival and another test within one week are needed. He also stated that the province must make sure that the mandatory quarantine is respected by those returning to Canada and authorize home visits by inspectors to ensure that people in isolation are adhering to their conditions.
Warning regarding new restrictions
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose to call on the good faith of Canadians, asking them not to travel abroad during the pandemic and warning that new restrictive measures could be added, without notice, to enforce compliance.
Mr. Trudeau explained that the new COVID-19 variants are prompting the evaluation of new protective measures.
“If you are planning to leave the country, please, for the sake of all Canadians, cancel your trip,” urged the prime minister. He reiterated that his government is committed to upholding Canada’s Constitution, which recognizes the right to travel.
Encouraging results, but the situation remains critical
Mr. Legault is encouraged by the decrease in the number of cases over the last few days and attributes this reduction to the current measures, in particular the curfew that will remain in place until February 8.
“But we can’t celebrate too quickly,” he said, while stating that the efforts of Quebecers seem to be paying off.
However, Mr. Legault cautioned that the number of hospitalizations is still very high and that hospitals are still facing a critical situation.
“If this drop in cases continues, it will eventually lead to less hospitalizations, but we’re not there yet,” said the premier.
Private clinics and 1,000 additional beds
The minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, confirmed that the government has already reached 22 agreements with private clinics, which has enabled 16,000 surgeries in order to treat more people.
The assistant deputy minister who heads university, medical, nursing and pharmaceutical affairs at the Ministère de la Santé, Dr. Lucie Opatrny, added that in order to avoid excluding patients from intensive care due to lack of space, some 1,000 acute-care beds currently closed may be reopened.
Hospital officials are in the process of redirecting nurses who were assigned to operating rooms that are now closed, in addition to increasing the patient-care ratio in intensive care units, expanding the practice of physicians to help nurses with certain types of care and making ambulance technicians part of the healthcare staff.
Four worrisome zones
While the number of cases seems to be decreasing in Québec, Premier François Legault mentioned that four sectors on the island of Montréal, in particular, are experiencing very high rates of contagion, that is, 450 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
These are the combined zones of Saint-Léonard / Saint-Michel, Ahuntsic and Montréal North, the northern part of the island of Montréal and Saint-Laurent as well as Rivière-des-Prairies, Montréal East and Anjou.
Mr. Legault called on the population in these sectors to exercise the utmost caution and to get tested in the event of even the slightest doubt to avoid adding to the spread of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Legault offered assurances about the speed of vaccination despite delays in deliveries imposed by the manufacturer Pfizer due to the expansion of its European facilities to increase production of the vaccine.
Despite these “temporary” delays, the prime minister stressed that all Canadians who want to receive the vaccine will be vaccinated before September.
Mr. Legault also reiterated that according to scientists, it is better to vaccinate as many people as possible with the first dose so that more people who are vulnerable can be immunized quickly.