COVID-19: Quebec tightening restrictions for Boxing Day, 9,000 new cases expected Thursday

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Quebec releases new testing guidelines'
COVID-19: Quebec releases new testing guidelines
For COVID-19, the government is altering its strategy to manage speedy testing and contact tracking. People who have symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, or a loss of taste or smell should go to a lab for testing. If somebody has such symptoms and has access to a home quick test with positive results, they should isolate themselves and get tested in a lab if one is available. Elizabeth Zogalis reports – Dec 23, 2021

Quebec has announced new restrictions as cases of COVID-19 increase at a dizzying pace with the Omicron variant taking hold as the dominant strain.

Premier François Legault said at a news conference Wednesday that Quebecers would need to limit private gatherings to six people – or two families – starting on Sunday, Dec. 26.

The same limit per table will apply to restaurants, which have been operating at half capacity since Monday.

He said the current 10-person limit will remain in place for Christmas but he was urging people to delay their parties if they could, or limit gatherings to one celebration either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

“It’s a matter of using your judgement, the ideal would be to stay home,” Legault said, adding you only catch the virus when in contact with other people.

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“If you stay home, there’s no risk.”

For those who insist on gathering, Legault reiterated the rules to follow to minimize risk,  such as reducing the number of people, wearing a mask, keeping a two-metre distance and periodically opening a window to ensure ventilation.

Legault’s announcement comes just two days after a rise in cases and hospitalizations forced the closure of schools, bars, gyms, theatres, spas and capacity limits on restaurants and places of worship.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Quebec limits private gatherings to six people amid Omicron'
COVID-19: Quebec limits private gatherings to six people amid Omicron

Legault said in just one week, daily cases have gone up from 2,000 to over 6,000. He warned that number was expected to surge to more than 9,000 on Thursday when the latest daily COVID-19 cases are released.

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He said pandemic hospitalizations have also increased significantly in just one week from 309 to 445.

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Legault said the main concern is with people aged 60 and over.

“Seventy per cent of people in hospital for COVID are over the age of 60, especially people who haven’t had their third dose” he said.

As of Monday, people aged 60 and over will be able to book an appointment for a booster shot.

Currently third doses are available to people 65 and over, health care workers, people with chronic health conditions, those living in remote or isolated communities and people who have received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Quebec’s Public Health Director, Dr. Horacio Arruda said people will either receive a shot of Moderna or Pfizer, depending on availability. Both are mRNA vaccines with similar efficacy and are considered interchangeable.

Click to play video: 'Montreal health-care network faces stark reality as COVID-19 cases surge'
Montreal health-care network faces stark reality as COVID-19 cases surge

He also repeated the call for people who are not vaccinated to do so.

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“You’re putting yourself at risk by being unvaccinated and putting our hospitals at risk,” Legault said.

While less than 10 per cent of the adult population is unvaccinated, they make up 50 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to Legault.

Modelling predictions by Quebec’s health institute (INSPQ) released earlier in the day and based on various scenarios, show Quebec’s health-care network could easily be overwhelmed in the next few weeks.

The institute says that while the transmission of the Omicron variant could be reduced through a combination of strong public support to public health measures, a faster rollout of third doses of COVID-19 vaccines, screening and isolation, there are no guarantees.

Given the uncertainty regarding the severity of Omicron, the INSPQ said hospital capacity overrun is a possibility even with the measures announced on Dec. 20 and the speeding up of booster shots.

“We think that the measures we’re announcing tonight are enough to maintain control in hospitals, but we won’t hesitate in the coming days if necessary to add more measures,” Legault said.

Change in screening strategy

Quebec’s Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda explained at Wednesday’s news conference that changes in the province’s screening strategy was also necessary as the number of cases grows exponentially.

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He said Quebec has a testing capacity of 50,000 tests per day and it has reached its limit.

Therefore testing in a lab is reserved for people experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or a loss of taste or smell.

“Only go to a screening clinic if you are experiencing symptoms and don’t have access to rapid tests,” Arruda said. “Isolate yourself and make an appointment to get tested.”

If you are experiencing symptoms and have access to a rapid test at home and the results are positive, Arruda said you should isolate yourself and get tested in a lab if accessible.

“If you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID, isolate yourself for 10 days and go to a clinic only if you develop symptoms,” he said.

Arruda also stressed the importance of making an appointment to avoid long lineups and the possibility of transmitting the virus.

He also said public health officials can no longer provide contact tracing so it will be up to each person to notify their close contacts.

Like the premier, Arruda, asked that people only use rapid tests, which are in short supply, if they are symptomatic.

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Arruda finished by asking people to remain courteous with health workers after incidents this week at screening centres, vaccination sites and pharmacies, where rapid tests are being distributed.

“We understand the stress, the worry, but you have to remain civil,” he said. “Staff are there to help us and so we must treat them with respect.”

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