COVID-19 measures ‘aimed to prevent more severe challenges’ in Quebec: infectious disease expert

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 starts to impact daily life in Montreal'
COVID-19 starts to impact daily life in Montreal
Quebec has had relatively few cases of COVID-19 so far, but sweeping new social distancing measures to prevent it from spreading further were instituted on Thursday to try and stop it in its tracks. McGill Medicine professor Matthew Oughton tells Global’s Dan Spector what we should expect – Mar 13, 2020

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across Canada and around the world, new measures were announced by the provincial government Thursday to help slow the outbreak in Quebec.

All people returning from abroad will be expected to self-isolate for 14 days, and those who work as teachers or healthcare workers will be required to do so. Public gatherings of more than 250 people have been banned across Quebec, and on Friday morning every public school board in the Montreal region had cancelled classes.

As well, the City of Montreal announced that all pools, hockey rinks, libraries and other public buildings will be closed.

While the protocol has caused alarm among members of the public, Dr. Matthew Oughton, an associate professor of infectious disease and medical microbiology at McGill University’s school of medicine, told Global News Morning he’s hopeful the new social-distancing measures will be effective.

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“I think the [measures] are appropriate to the time that we are in,” he said. “These measures aimed at social distancing are important to reduce the amount of community spread.”

Oughton said the plan is “aimed to prevent more severe challenges.”

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While many social functions, concerts and events are impacted, most Montrealers are still expected to go to work for now, and — crucially — public transit remains accessbile. That has raised eyebrows among some, given that at least one COVID-19 patient is reported to have travelled on the Metro’s orange and yellow lines while contagious.

“It really is a risk-benefit thing,” Oughton said of calls to suspend Metro service. “We really do rely on the Metro.”

If the social-distancing measures are effective, Oughton expects them to last a few weeks. Once air temperatures begin to rise in the late spring and summer, he said it is likely that the virus will be more difficult to transmit.

“Respiratory droplets probably cannot travel quite as far or last quite as long,” once it is warmer outside, Oughton explained. That’s the case for most other known coronaviruses, like the common cold, the flu, and SARS.

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“However, with COVID-19 this is simply too new of a virus. We just don’t know.”

Oughton said that while these new social-distancing efforts may seem draconian, they’re aimed at preventing the eventual need for a total lockdown similar to those in Italy and China, which are hard hit by the virus.

“If these measures take effect and we can avoid much bigger problems later on, this is the way to preserve Montreal’s festival life later in the year,” he said.

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