Quebec has raised the alert level for the Laval, Outaouais and Centre-du-Québec regions as officials warn the start of a second wave of COVID-19 is underway in the province.
Health Minister Christian Dubé announced the decision Tuesday afternoon alongside Dr. Horacio Arruda, the director of Quebec public health, as novel coronavirus cases continue to rise.
“We are in community transmission,” Dubé told reporters, saying it strains the province’s already fragile health-care network.
Laval and Outaouais are now in the orange zone, which calls for a moderate alert. It entails tighter controls for the area, including reducing the number of people allowed for private and public gatherings, as well as scaling back bar hours.
As of Tuesday, there are now five regions in orange level, including Montreal. The highest zone is red, but no regions have reached that level yet.
The alert level for the Centre-du-Québec area has also been raised to yellow, which states an early warning.
Quebec reported 489 new cases and one additional death linked to the virus on Tuesday. To date, the province has seen more than 68,000 cases and 5,800 deaths.
Dubé said the beginning of the second wave in the province is different from the first, with regions that were largely spared from the health crisis in the spring experiencing a jump in cases now.
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If hospitalizations continue to rise as they did on Tuesday, it also puts more pressure on health-care workers who were already stretched thin in the spring, he added.
“Our employees are tired,” he said. “It was difficult.”
To limit the spread of the virus, Dubé warned again that Quebecers must be vigilant in the coming weeks.
“This is a difficult situation that we are going through but every one of us can make a big difference,” he said.
Calls for workers in testing clinics
Quebec has issued an appeal for help in screening clinics to deal with ramping up testing and investigations to stem the tide of the virus.
They are looking for health-care workers such as dentists, audiologists and midwives to lend a helping hand.
“We have been working since last week to increase our screening capacity, but this is not enough,” said Dubé. “And we want also to provide other solutions in the coming days and weeks.”
The demand comes as public health officials, including Arruda, say there have been difficulties with contact tracing and many people aren’t picking up the phone. Tracking down people who have may been exposed to COVID-19 has been time consuming in recent weeks, especially in hard-hit Montreal.
Dubé said the government is working to meet demand, saying he doesn’t want to turn people away from testing sites.
Opposition says ‘people are confused’ by alert system
Opposition parties in Quebec’s national assembly shot holes in the province’s plan to tackle a second wave of COVID-19.
Liberal MNA André Fortin says there are a lot of unknowns as Quebecers brace for what may come next in the unfolding health crisis.
“We don’t know what the plan to get more surgeries done is,” he said. “We don’t know what the colour code from the government means, we don’t know what the projections are at this point.”
The Parti Québécois also criticized the four-level colour-coded alert system on Tuesday, saying it was never made clear to the public. Joël Arseneau, an MNA with the party, said the government is playing around with the meaning of the colours.
“People are completely confused,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher and the Canadian Press