Quebec reported 756 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths as health authorities warn of the arrival in Canada of the Omicron variant of concern.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé confirmed the province’s first case on Monday.
He also said 115 travellers from countries affected by the new variant, mostly southern Africa, had been contacted in order to undergo a second PCR screening test and to self-isolate.
Quebec’s Public Health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said inquiries are still being made as to when the person was infected but revealed few details other than saying she was from Nigeria.
Dubé said he was waiting for the advice of experts studying the new variant before imposing new health restrictions and that a two-week timeframe was expected.
Meanwhile, public health officials in Quebec are monitoring whether Omicron is resistant to current COVID-19 vaccines and how virulent and contagious it is.
Arruda said it is also being watched to see if it becomes the dominant variant ahead of the Delta variant.
Canada’s first known cases were confirmed in Ottawa on Sunday. Ontario’s top doctor said the two people, who had recently been in Nigeria, were first tested for the virus in Montreal, upon their arrival in Canada.
On Sunday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos reassured the public, while also saying more cases of the variant are expected.
“I know that this new variant may seem concerning, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual protective measures, is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in our communities.”
Dubé thanked the federal government for its proactive stance in adding some restrictions on travellers from certain countries, but warned Quebecers travelling abroad to remain vigilant and be cognizant that return rules to Canada could change very quickly.
“We can see that the variant is starting to spread all over the world, so no matter where you travel you must be careful,” he said.
Dubé recommended against travelleing unless necessary and said he would like to see Ottawa impose even stronger measures at the border, including mandatory testing upon arrival in Canada if needed.
In the interim, though, Dubé said Canada should expand its list of seven countries with travel bans. That list includes South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
“We see that Nigeria was not in those seven countries and it should be in those countries,” he said.
While the situation remains under control in Quebec, Dubé reiterated the need to follow all public health guidelines due to the uncertainty stemming from the rise of the new Omicron variant.
That includes handwashing, physical distancing, mask wearing and private indoor gatherings.
“Gathering in houses — and I will repeat that until Christmas — gatherings in houses are always limited to 10 people,” he stressed, adding that private gatherings were the source of many outbreaks.
Dubé also addressed the rising number of new infections in Quebec.
“Among the new cases of the last seven days, the majority of those increases came from people who are not vaccinated,” he said.
Of the 756 cases reported on Monday, 417 are among unvaccinated people or those less than two weeks removed from a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to data released by Quebec’s Health Ministry, those who are unvaccinated are 3.6 time more likely to become infected than those who are adequately vaccinated.
They are also 16.1 times more likely to be hospitalized due to complications of the virus than people who are fully vaccinated.
Pandemic-related hospitalizations increased by 10 in the last day, with 22 patients admitted and 12 discharged for a total of 226. Of those, 45 are in intensive care.
Dubé called the increase minor and credited the province’s wide vaccine coverage for keeping hospitalizations under control.
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He also noted that many of the new infections are occurring in children who have yet to be vaccinated.
Dubé, however, expects that to change as the province has begun vaccinating kids between the ages of five and 11.
Since the campaign kicked off last week, 69,889 children have received a first shot of a pediatric vaccine and 136,264 others have booked an appointment.
The latest data available shows that 80.7 per cent of the population in Quebec has received at least one dose.
To date, the province has recorded 447,387 infections and 11,576 deaths attributable to the virus.
— With files from Global News’ David Lao and The Canadian Press