In Quebec, holiday gatherings are on the line as the second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic bears down and some hospitals begin to reach capacity in the hard-hit province.
A final decision about Christmastime will be made Dec. 11, with Premier François Legault citing a high number of cases and a rise in hospitalizations linked to COVID-19.
“Currently, we’re not heading in the right direction,” he told reporters Tuesday in Quebec City, adding that he wants to be as transparent as possible about the health crisis.
The change comes as Quebec had already revised its Christmas plan and what is allowed over the holidays. The province had given the green light to two gatherings during a four-day period from Dec. 24 to 27 so long as people voluntarily quarantined the week before and after.
On Tuesday, there are more than 700 people in hospital — a high during the second wave of the crisis. Data from Quebec’s national public health institute show the last time hospitalizations were that high due to the virus was June 15.
“We will follow the situation closely over the next 10 days in the hospitals,” Legault said, adding the province is approaching the number of patients it can treat.
Legault said that he is thinking of health-care workers on the front lines, who have been working tirelessly in the past nine months to stem the tide. More than 6,000 health-care workers are on sick leave or have taken preventive leave — and that number is still rising, he added.
“If hospitalizations continue to increase, it will be difficult to take that risk,” Legault said.
Quebec’s public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said Tuesday there isn’t a specific number of hospitalizations that would lead the government to cancel its Christmas plan, but rather it would depend on the overall impact on the health-care system.
The premier, for his part, admitted he is also worried about the situation in private seniors residences.
There are currently 120 private seniors residences with at least one active case of COVID-19, according to public health authorities. Of those, there are 20 facilities where more than 25 per cent of residents have active cases.
Quebec reported 1,177 new infections and 28 additional deaths associated with the virus Tuesday. The caseload has reached 143,548 while the death toll stands at 7,084.
New rules coming for malls, stores as Christmas shopping gets underway
Quebec will also roll out new rules for malls and other stores soon, according to Legault.
“I know there are lot of people doing Christmas shopping these days, and I know it’s important for economy, but we’ll announce new rules for malls and big stores in the coming days and ask the customers to be very careful,” he said.
A large swath of the province remains a designated coronavirus red zone, including Montreal and Quebec City.
In regions on red alert, there is a partial lockdown underway. This means bars, gyms, museums and dining rooms are off limits and there is a ban on most gatherings until at least Jan. 11, 2021.
However, stores and malls have been allowed to remain open across Quebec so long as people wear masks and respect physical-distancing measures.
Legault did not say when exactly the new rules will be announced, but he is urging the public to continue their efforts in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
“We still have difficult months ahead of us before the vaccine,” he said. “The virus is very strong, and we see that everywhere in the world.”
— With files from the Canadian PressView link »