Quebec Premier François Legault thanked Quebecers on Monday for complying with the province’s overnight curfew, which began over the weekend.
“I was very impressed to see the solidarity of Quebecers who massively respected the curfew this weekend,” Legault said during a press conference on Monday.
He also thanked officers for the work in enforcing the new measures which were announced last week as the province grapples with a deepening health crisis.
“We asked them to give fewer warnings and more fines,” he said.
“We cannot accept that a few irresponsible people put the population at risk.”
Overall, Legault said police handed out 740 tickets province wide, with fines ranging between $1,000 and $6,000.
The premier has argued the curfew is necessary to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus amid an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths linked to the virus.
On Monday, hospitalizations attributable to the novel coronavirus climbed by 56 to 1,436. Of those patients, 211 are in intensive care, a rise of eight.
Legault described the situation in Quebec hospitals as “critical,” especially in the Montreal region.
Assistant Deputy Health Minister Dr. Lucie Opartny agreed with the premier, saying the health network is under immense pressure.
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has almost doubled in the Greater Montreal Area since mid-December, jumping from 472 on Dec. 11 to 1,071 on Sunday.
Opartny said most hospitals are overwhelmed and have already done what they can to reduce pressure by postponing appointments and cancelling elective surgeries.
Other activities that have been put aside, completely or partially, include semi-urgent surgeries, colonoscopies for colon cancer screening, kidney transplants from live donors except for pediatric patients and non-emergency consultations in specialized clinics.
“The impacts are huge,” Opartny said, adding the problems are compounded by a lack of staff.
She warned the strain is such that it’s becoming difficult for some hospitals to perform emergency surgeries and provide oncology treatments.
“If the trend continues, there may be too many patients in intensive care, whether COVID-19 or other diseases and illnesses,” she said. “This would force the network to make even more difficult decisions than they already are.”
Dr. François De Champlain, an emergency room physician at the McGill University Health Centre, said it’s a terrible situation to be in.
“Right now trainings are happening in all the hospitals with this big document that we all received of more than 60 pages highlighting some of the tools we may have to use to decide who gets for example certain invasive treatment or an ICU bed for example,” he said.
“Never in our career, any healthcare worker even frontline worker thought they would be in this situation where they would have to make choices and practice essentially disaster medicine.”
While De Champlain said the MUHC isn’t at that point yet, things can change quickly.
The delays accumulating in services could be felt for months if not years, according to Opartny, who reiterated the premier’s calls to respect public health guidelines.
“The first reason for continuing all our efforts is to help our health workers, the other is to reduce the number of deaths,” Legault said.
Legault also stressed the need to protect seniors over the age of 65 who are especially vulnerable to the illness.
“If we work together to avoid contacts with people aged 65 and over, we’ll solve a large part of the problem,” he said.
According to Legault, 80 per cent of COVID-19 patients are over 65 and they account for 95 per cent of COVID-linked fatalities.
“I ask Quebecers to limit their contact with them as much as possible,” he said. “We’re in the last miles of our marathon, now is not time to give up.”
Vaccine rollout on schedule
Both the premier and Heatlh Minister Christian Dubé said the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout was going smoothly.
So far, the province has administered 80 per cent of the doses it has received.
More than half of residents in long-term care homes, who are at the top of the government’s priority list in terms of vaccination, have been inoculated. The vaccination of staff working in care homes is also underway and Dubé estimates they will all have received a dose within the next two weeks.
The province expects it will be able to reach its goal of 250,000 people vaccinated by Feb. 8. if the federal government delivers the required doses as promised, Dubé said.
Dubé also addressed the issue of delaying the second dose of the vaccine, saying discussions were underway between public health, vaccine manufacturers and the national commission.
Last week, the government had announced it would no longer be reserving a second dose of the vaccine, preferring to vaccinate as many people as possible with a first dose.
Pfizer recommends a 21-day period between doses, while Moderna recommends 28-days.
Dubé said in its various scenarios, the second dose could be pushed back by as much as three months.
“We’re following this very closely,” Dubé said of the ongoing talks, adding a decision on when to go ahead with second doses is forthcoming.
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