The Quebec government is tightening access to more regions and urging the public to practise social-distancing measures as the novel coronavirus death toll reached 33 on Wednesday.
“We are prepared for the fight, but we must continue our efforts,” said Premier François Legault.
“We must continue to protect our elderly population. There must be no visits in residences. It’s a question of life or death.”
Two more Quebecers have died, and there are 4,611 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon.
The illness has led to 317 hospitalizations across Quebec, and 82 people remain in intensive care. However, Legault said it was good news that the number of patients receiving intensive care has not budged.
The main concern for the government at the moment is protecting seniors, who are most at risk for COVID-19.
The pandemic has touched more than 500 residences where the elderly live. The majority of deaths in the province are Quebecers over the age of 70, according to the government.
The government has tightened access to seniors residences and Legault stressed it’s important not to visit elderly relatives during the pandemic.
“I know it’s sad, but you shouldn’t go and visit the elderly in all residences,” he said.
Quebec was also able to secure more protective gear for front-line health workers for at least one week after announcing an impending shortage on Tuesday. Local businesses have also stepped up to help make medical equipment such as masks and gloves, according to Legault.
‘It’s difficult to know when the peak might happen’
As the pandemic takes a hold on the country, Legault acknowledged it is difficult to know when measures will come to an end.
COVID-19 has forced a partial shutdown in Quebec, with only non-essential businesses allowed to operate until at least April 13.
The health crisis has also prompted sweeping restrictions, such as school closures and limiting travel between different areas.
“We want to flatten the curve,” said Legault. “But it’s difficult to know when the peak might happen.”
The government has called on public health authorities to determine what is the most likely scenario for the pandemic in Quebec, but Legault admitted that nothing is certain.
Limiting travel between regions
The Quebec government is also restricting access to four additional regions in a bid to to slow the spread of the virus.
The Public Security Ministry, which announced the measure in a statement on Wednesday, said the move bans non-essential movements in the following areas:
- The Outaouais region
- The regional municipal counties of Antoine-Labelle and Argenteuil in the Laurentians
- The Autray, Joliette, Matawinie and Montcalm territories in the Lanaudière region
- La Tuque in the Mauricie region
The ministry said that movement will be controlled by the police forces in those regions, including the Sûreté du Québec and Gatineau police.
The decision comes a few days after the province announced it was limiting travel to eight regions in hopes of protecting them from COVID-19. This includes Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Côte-Nord, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Nord-du-Québec and the northern territories of Nunavik and Baie-James.
No plans to confine Montreal
Montreal accounts for nearly half of all the province’s infections, but Legault said it would be difficult to confine the area.
“There is no plan to close the island of Montreal because if we decide one day to do that, we would need to close also the suburbs,” he said. There is a lot of travelling between those areas, he added.
That is part of the reason why the province is closing off other areas in hopes of curbing the spread of the virus, according to Legault.
The new numbers show that Montreal has 2,097 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
Public health authorities report that the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Côte Saint-Luc and Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie boroughs have the highest number of cases.
— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier, Alessia Simona Maratta and the Canadian Press