Quebec is slowly reopening but the possibility of loosening more COVID-19 health restrictions will depend on how the next few weeks play out, according to the province’s interim public health director.
Dr. Luc Boileau explained that while pandemic-related hospitalizations and cases are starting to drop, that could change as businesses welcome patrons again and people host private indoor gatherings.
“The health system is fragile and we have to protect it,” he told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.
Boileau said the outlook remains mostly positive, but added that easing more health measures is something that must be done carefully.
The number of infections, and ultimately hospitalizations, are likely to rise again with children going back to school and the softening of restrictions, according to Boileau. What unfolds between now and Feb. 23 will largely determine what happens next.
“We really certainly hope that we will not have to get back (to restrictions) in any way, but there’s a risk,” he said.
Quebecers are urged to remain vigilant in the meantime. Boileau also encouraged people to wear a mask, get vaccinated and minimize contacts.
“It depends on the population and if they want to participate,” he said.
Hospitalizations are down, but not among children
The Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS), the province’s national health-care research institute, reports the number of new hospitalizations dropped by nearly 25 per cent in the last week of January among most age groups — except it remained stable among children and teens.
There has also been a “slight increase” when it comes to emergency room admissions for kids under the age of 12 who test positive for the virus. Health officials explained that it is because community transmission of COVID-19 has been high during the surge of infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.
Michèle de Guise, the interim president of INESSS, also said infections are being detected among pediatric patients who show up to emergency departments for other reasons.
“They aren’t necessarily sick from COVID. They could come to the ER for appendicitis or fracture or anything that brings them to the hospital,” she said.
“As there is a lot of transmission in the community, we will see this transmission in the emergency rooms.”
When it comes to hospitalizations, the INESSS’ latest projection issued Wednesday says the number of patients should continue to slowly drop over the next two weeks. The modelling suggests about 1,800 regular hospital beds will be used for patients with COVID-19 while 170 people will be in intensive care units.
Meanwhile, the province’s public health institute also projects a fall in hospital numbers in the coming weeks, but that could change as Quebec continues to reopen. As health measures are lifted, the Institut de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) says there could be an increase in infections, deaths and hospitalizations by the end of February.
“In the near future, there is still an anticipated decline (in cases),” Dr. Erik Litvak of INSPQ said. “In the coming weeks, there is more uncertainty.”
— with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press