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Quebec reports 88 more COVID-19 deaths as hospitalizations top 3,425

Click to play video: 'Quebec’s COVID-19 death toll highest in the country' Quebec’s COVID-19 death toll highest in the country
WATCH: Quebec's COVID-19 death toll highest in the country – Jan 19, 2022

Quebec reported 3,425 active COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday and 88 more deaths attributed to the virus.

The total death toll since the start of the pandemic is now 12,541.

According to the province’s institute of public health (INSPQ), Quebec’s death rate is the highest in Canada, with an average of seven deaths per million inhabitants over the last seven days. The Canadian average is 3.2.

Quebec doesn’t fare any better when compared to other countries ranking first, ahead of Italy at 5.4, and the United States at 4.7.

The INSPQ, however, urged caution when comparing the data, warning that methods by which deaths are registered can differ from one province to another, and from one country to another.

Premier François Legault made similar comments in a tweet on Sunday.

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“Be careful with comparisons when it comes to deaths,” he wrote in French. “Some states don’t include deaths when the main cause is not COVID-19.”

Legault went on to say that a better indicator is excess mortality, which refers to the number of deaths from all causes during a crisis that are above what would have been expected during a normal year.

A 2021 report by the Royal Society of Canada indicates that Quebec likely painted the most accurate picture when it comes to COVID-19 deaths.

The report states that in many provinces, COVID-19 deaths were underreported.

“Between February 1 and November 28, 2020, our study finds that the COVID-19 deaths of
approximately 6,000 people aged 45 and older living in communities across Canada appear to
have gone undetected, unreported or unattributed to COVID-19,” the report reads.

“This suggests that if Canada has continued to miss these fatalities at the same rate since last November, the pandemic mortality burden may be two times higher than reported.”

The INSPQ said in its methodology it attributes a death to COVID-19, even when the virus was a secondary cause of death.

Quebec’s interim public health director, Dr. Luc Boileau, said doctors are asking questions about the province’s death count.

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“They’re under the impression that there are more deaths reported with COVID than due to COVID,” he said, adding that public health is looking into the issue.

The situation in hospitals

Meanwhile, hospitalizations increased by eight with 359 new patients admitted and 351 discharged. Of those in hospital, 285 are in intensive care, for a decrease of four over the previous day.

Another 6,123 infections were recorded in the last 24 hours bringing the total caseload to 812,419. The number of cases does not accurately reflect the situation due to limited screening, according to the province.

Read more: Quebec hospital plan could see ‘harm-reduction approach’ taken to COVID-19

While health officials said Tuesday the rise in hospitalizations driven by the Omicron variant seems to be  slowing, Quebec announced a contingency plan to allow for overburdened hospitals to continue operating.

Rather than focusing on keeping COVID-19 out of their facilities, hospitals would adopt a “harm-reduction approach” to the spread of the virus.

Some of the plan involves allowing workers infected with or exposed to the virus to continue working rather than isolating, and having family members of patients provide basic care to their loved one so medical staff can provide clinical care.

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Dr. François Loubert, part of the Montreal regional department of General Medicine, agreed the health-care system is under great pressure and could be facing a tipping point.

“At this time I don’t think we’re at a point where there’s a decreased quality of care,” he said but admitted it’s a concern.

With that in mind, Loubert is urging people to seek care when and where appropriate.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we have to reduce the quality of care to provide care to a lot  of people,’ he said.

Loubert recommended people contact their pharmacist or the info-Santé line at 811 if they are unsure about whether they need to consult a doctor or not.

“If you have chest pain, if you’re out of breath, of course it’s appropriate to seek medical advice. But if your condition is not urgent, now is the time to wait and also to use the proper settings,” he said.

The idea is to avoid clogging up emergency settings with non-urgent matters to free up resources for those who need emergency care.

The province also announced that it would begin to distribute Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid to the population in a bid to eventually prevent further hospitalizations.

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Read more: Quebec set to distribute Pfizer’s pill to treat COVID-19, but with limited availability

Health officials however warn the pill will be reserved for people who are more vulnerable, at least in the next few months, due to limited supply.

While the pill offers hope, health experts are still stressing the need for people to be vaccinated.

In the last 24 hours, Quebec administered 110,035 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. To date, more than 16.6 million shots have been administered, including more than 2.8 million booster shots.

In the province, 85.2 per cent of the population has received at least on dose, while 89.8 of Quebecers aged 12 and over are considered adequately vaccinated.

— With files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise, Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press’ Jacob Serebrin

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