Quebec is ramping up its screening measures as the novel coronavirus health crisis bears down on the Greater Montreal area.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of Quebec public health, said on Friday that the virus is under control in most of the province, but there are concerns over its spread in Montreal, Laval and the surrounding areas.
“The portrait and evolution of COVID-19 is different from one region to the other,” he said during a news conference in Montreal North, one of the hardest hit areas in Canada.
A bolstered testing strategy will help authorities identify cases of community transmission and better protect the public, according to Arruda.
In Montreal, mobile units are being deployed to test residents. People who experience symptoms — such as a fever, coughing and difficulty breathing — are asked to call 1-877-644-4545 to be referred to the right resource.
Quebec has yet to reach its target. Arruda said about 10,000 people are tested per day for the virus in Quebec. He expects to reach the province’s goal of 14,000 daily tests in the coming days.
“This massive screening effort is very important to the context of lifting lockdowns, which has already begun,” he said.
Quebec saw 912 new cases on Friday, bringing the total to 36,150. The respiratory illness has killed 2,725 people in the province to date — the most in Canada.
Montreal has more than 18,000 cases of COVID-19. The Montreal North, Parc-Extension, Saint-Michel and Rivière-des-Prairies sectors are particularly hard hit.
“We are the epicentre of this virus,” said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.
As part of the plan, the director of Montreal public health said staffing will be boosted to work not only on screening, but also on the epidemiological investigations surrounding each case and managing outbreaks.
Dr. Mylène Drouin said her team must be able to investigate new cases within 24 hours of discovery in order to trace contacts and prevent wider transmission in Montreal.
As public health increases testing, authorities are asking the public to abide by social-distancing measures and to not let their guards down.
Arruda stressed that Montrealers should continue to avoid large gatherings and to follow public health guidelines, or risk losing all the gains they made during the pandemic.
“It’s important if we want to be ready for post-confinement without setting us back,” he said.
The province has started to gradually ease restrictions in parts of Quebec, but it has pushed back its reopening plan for the Greater Montreal area, citing high infection rates and hospitalization numbers.
Elementary schools, daycares and businesses are expected to be back up and running by May 25.
— With files from the Canadian Press