The request comes as the province grapples to contain outbreaks in overburdened and understaffed nursing homes.
Legault said that hundreds of health-care professionals — including 350 medical specialists — have answered the call to help but that more assistance is needed, and that’s why he is asking for more help from the military.
“It’s not ideal,” said Legault during his daily briefing on Wednesday. “But at the same time I think it will help us to have more arms to carry out tasks that are not medical.”
Legault admitted he was expecting more medical specialists to help out, saying he was told 2,300 specialists would be available.
“But when we asked the specialists, ‘Are you ready to come work full time for two weeks starting now’, there are 350,” he said.
The Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec (FMSQ) — an umbrella organization representing medical specialists in the province — fired back at the premier.
The FMSQ said when Legault first asked for help, more than 2,000 doctors volunteered. The premier later specified that doctors needed to be available on a full time basis for two weeks.
Doctors agreed but the FMSQ warned the premier that in order to transfer staff to long-term care facilities, hospital activities would need to be limited to essential services only in the Greater Montreal region.
What they received instead was the announcement of the resumption of urgent and semi-urgent surgeries in hospitals, thus mobilizing doctors.
Meanwhile, the FMSQ says hospitals themselves are also having to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks, requiring additional medical resources on top of the thousands of specialists that are already on the ground.
“Every day, across Quebec, no less than 1,200 medical specialists are on call to ensure continuity of urgent care for citizens; more than 3,000 others work in surgical activities; without counting the activities deemed essential by the Ministry of Health which are cardiology (468), hematology-oncology (300), ,neurology (298) and obstetricians-gynecologists (544),” the FMSQ said in a statement.
Furthermore, the FMSQ said that of the 2.415 specialists that volunteered, 79 per cent have yet to be contacted by the government.
The federation says doctors are doing their part.
“All medical specialists want to fight COVID and respond to the national emergency to the best of their ability,” said FMSQ president Dr. Diand Francoeur.
“Despite the confusion that reigns over protective measures, including the shortage of masks and medicines, or even differences over the isolation rules, we are all present on the ground, every day, throughout Quebec to save lives.”
Quebec’s death toll has mounted to 1,134 as of Wednesday. There are 20,965 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the province to date and roughly half of them are located in Montreal.
The respiratory illness has led to 1,278 hospitalizations, up 55 from the previous day. There are 199 patients in intensive care.
The majority of fatalities have originated in long-term care centres. The province has identified at least 80 facilities where the situation is not under control.
The province’s request comes as 130 personnel from the Canadian Forces are currently on the ground in Quebec. The military says the teams are divided among five affected nursing homes in and around Montreal.
Legault, for his part, specified that facilities require an additional 1,000 people working at full-time capacity to get them through the health crisis.
“We found 1,000, the half that we needed,” he said. “We still need 1,000.”
The premier added that the province entered the pandemic “badly equipped” to handle outbreaks in the facilities. He said the government is doing its best to rectify staffing shortages.
Quebec to present plan next week for schools, businesses
While the situation remains critical in Quebec’s seniors residences, Legault said that the strict social-distancing measures to heeded by the public are working.
Legault said that outside the Montreal and Laval areas — which account for 74 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in the province — the situation in the rest of the province remains largely stable.
“The next few days will show if we’re really on the right side of the curve,” he said, referring to the progression of the virus.
When it comes to reopening shuttered schools and the economy, Legault said he will present a plan next week.
Academic institutions will resume their functions gradually and will begin in regions that are the most stable, according to Legault.
He stressed that attendance won’t be mandatory, and parents who don’t want to send their children before the fall won’t have to and may keep them at home.
“We are going to take measures so that these children are able to catch up when they return to school in September,” he said.
However, Legault said that any plan must have public health’s approval before it can be implemented. The province is facing a challenge to “restart the economy without restarting the pandemic,” he added.
The Quebec government implemented sweeping measures last month to curb the spread of COVID-19. Daycares, schools and universities have been closed since March 16 while non-essential services were ordered to shutter a week later.
How long will Quebec live with COVID-19?
As the provincial government looks to move forward and gradually resume services, the public health director admitted the virus could be around for years to come.
“It is possible that we will still be talking about coronavirus in 2021, unfortunately, or even until 2022,” said Horacio Arruda.
Until a vaccine or treatment is available, the respiratory illness could have periods where it will all but disappear, only to re-emerge, he added.
“As you know, SARS disappeared at one point, the first SARS, the SARS virus,” he said. “This one, we don’t know how it will behave. It is clear that a vaccine, or a treatment, is not for tomorrow morning.”
As a result, Arruda said public health will have to keep a close eye on the progression of the virus and intervene when necessary.
— With files from the Canadian Press