Quebec’s public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda has resigned after serving as the province’s top health official throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arruda submitted his resignation in a letter to Premier Francois Legault Monday, which the premier accepted, according to his office.
In the letter, Arruda said he gave the best of himself as he helped lead the province’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, but that recent comments about the credibility of his and his team’s advice have “eroded the public’s trust and adhesion.”
“In this context, I deem it appropriate to offer you the possibility to replace me before my mandate expires, at least as the director of public health,” Arruda wrote in part.
Arruda’s contract was renewed for three years in August 2020.
He goes on to defend his work, however, saying the advice and recommendations he put forward were “the best possible” amid “a context of uncertainty and rapid progression of knowledge.”
Arruda writes he is happy to continue serving Quebecers in a different role in public health, but wants to give the premier the opportunity to make a final decision.
“Do not see this as my abandoning the role, but rather an offer for you to re-evaluate the situation, after several waves and in the context of a constantly evolving situation,” the letter reads in French.
Arruda had been in the position as public health director for nearly 12 years, but became one of the most visible faces of the COVID-19 pandemic in Quebec, which has seen more deaths than any other province — along with some of the harshest public health measures to help contain the virus.
Among those measures was a nighttime curfew to limit public gatherings, which was reintroduced a day before New Year’s Eve along with a host of other restrictions as the highly transmissible Omicron variant leads to record case counts and hospitalizations.
As of Monday, over 2,500 people were in hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, a new high for the province. That number includes 248 intensive care patients. The province has reported 11,966 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
The latest measures, which have been denounced by businesses and civil rights groups but praised by health experts as necessary, are set to expire on Jan. 17 unless the province decides to extend them.
There were also calls to replace Arruda previously over comments that the use of rapid tests or even wearing a mask gives a false sense of security.
Arruda’s replacement has not yet been announced. Legault’s office said the premier will discuss the resignation on Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET.
Legault had given Arruda a vote of confidence on Dec. 30 in announcing several further measures including the curfew, with the premier insisting he was the right person to lead the public health department.
—With files from Gloria Henriquez and the Canadian Press