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March 23, 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.

New variants and vaccination

Québec Premier François Legault said that “Québec is resisting the new variants and the third wave, which is not what’s happening in other parts of the world, such as France, Italy, Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, or here in Canada, in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.”

Mr. Legault noted that the public health measures are working, but that “the war is not over and the next few weeks will be determining.”

He pointed out that in recent weeks, Québec has not seen an increase in the number of cases, but rather a stabilization, with the daily number of people hovering around 700.

The premier noted that the vaccination of people who are more vulnerable, those 65 years of age and older, should be completed by April 15, which will help to limit the risk of flooding the healthcare system. Today, Québec also hit the one-million mark in terms of the number of people who have been vaccinated so far.

The vaccination pace will speed up in order to reach 50,000 people a day over the next few weeks, which will also help to reduce the risk of contagion. The premier reiterated however that people who have received the vaccine must remain cautious, because it takes three to four weeks after inoculation for the vaccines to reach their full efficacy.

Two zones at risk

While Québec is successfully staving off a third wave of the pandemic, two regions, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and Outaouais, have recorded significant increases in the number of cases.

Premier Legault is therefore calling on Quebecers to continue to respect the health directives and to reduce social contact to curb the current increase. He reiterated that the British variant, already detected in close to one-third of diagnosed cases, will be the main strain of COVID-19 in Québec in the next month.

The British variant is more easily transmitted and is more pathogenic than the original strain.

High school students to return to class in red zones

The risk of a third wave of COVID-19 in Québec is limiting the government’s intentions to ease some of the health measures, said Mr. Legault, who ventured to implement two of them, namely, the return to classes every day for students in grades 9, 10 and 11, starting next Monday, March 29, in red zones.

The second is to allow the reopening, tomorrow, of dining rooms in seniors’ residences where over 75% of residents have been vaccinated. This reopening will be permitted with some restrictions, such as limiting tables to two family bubbles, distancing between tables and the use of plexiglass barriers.

The vaccination strategy was also adjusted upward in these regions, based not only on population, but also on the categories of people at risk, explained the minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé.

Non-urgent surgeries still delayed

Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé acknowledged that despite the stable number of people infected with COVID-19, Québec hospitals, particularly in the Montréal area, are still receiving 40 to 50 new cases every day.

This influx is still forcing hospitals to postpone non-urgent surgeries, making the waiting list longer.

“Thanks to agreements with private clinics, we’ve been able to reduce offloading, but it’s still occurring,” he said. Postponement of surgeries has decreased from 60% to 17%. Minister Dubé noted that, in this context, the network has not caught up and is continuing to fall behind.

 Vaccination outside the hospital network

The mass vaccination campaign orchestrated in dedicated centres, such as the Olympic Stadium, the Palais des congrès and the Bob-Birnie Arena, is helping to take pressure off hospital staff, said Mr. Dubé.

A single dose for people infected

The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, confirmed that people infected with COVID-19 only need a single dose of the vaccine, instead of two, in order to be immunized.

Experts have found that the second dose could cause significant negative effects in these people and that their immunity would not be increased.

Federal elections

The director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said an early election, in the spring or summer, must be studied by public health experts so that it can be properly mapped out in the context of the pandemic.

Reopening restaurants

Dr. Arruda added that scenarios for gradually opening restaurants are being studied with the return of good weather and the possibility of opening terraces. More news about this will follow.