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About 3 million Quebecers infected with COVID-19 during Omicron wave: public health

Click to play video: 'Quebec Government eases COVID-19 measures as cases decrease' Quebec Government eases COVID-19 measures as cases decrease
WATCH: The fifth wave of COVID-19 has been particularly difficult, with roughly 3 million Quebecers infected with the Omicron variant since January. But with hospitalizations down and new infection rates dropping, Quebec's interim public health director says the time is right to start loosening some restrictions that have become part of everyday life. Global's Olivia O'Malley has more – Feb 23, 2022

The fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has infected about three million Quebecers to date, the province’s interim public health director said Wednesday.

Dr. Luc Boileau gave the latest estimate of novel coronavirus cases during the Omicron-fuelled surge that has hit Quebec hard since last December.

“The wave isn’t finished,” he said, but added the province is headed in the right direction as infections and hospitalizations fall.

Tracking the progression of the cases has been difficult during the latest wave since official PCR screening is limited to high-risk groups. Earlier this month, Boileau said nearly two million Quebecers had COVID-19 since the arrival of the contagious variant.

READ MORE: Quebec to lift classroom mask requirements for COVID-19 after March break

But with the latest studies and modelling, Boileau said that number now stands around three million.

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“The Omicron wave was even stronger than we anticipated,” Boileau told reporters.

The update comes after Montreal’s public health director said earlier in the day that at least one million people in the city contracted COVID-19 during the fifth wave. Dr. Mylène Drouin said officials estimate that about 30 per cent of the city’s population had the virus over the past two months.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 update' COVID-19 update
COVID-19 update – Feb 23, 2022

The good news, Drouin said, is that all novel coronavirus indicators in Montreal appear to be on the downswing. Cases, hospitalizations and the positivity rate improved in recent weeks, she added.

“We are happy to be on the downward slope of this fifth wave,” Drouin told reporters at a news conference.

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The most recent wave did, however, delay surgeries in the city. The waiting list currently sits around 45,000 people — including 15,000 who have been waiting for their operations for more than a year, according to officials.

Sonia Bélanger, the head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, said the health network is “resuming activities much faster than previous waves.” The target to is to halve waiting lists by April 2023, she said.

‘Calculated risks’ in removing masks in classrooms

As a result of the improving situation along with high vaccination rates in Montreal against the virus, Drouin said she is comfortable with the gradual lifting of health restrictions.

This includes easing the mask mandate in elementary and high school classrooms in March, which the province announced Tuesday.

Boileau of Quebec’s public health department, explained Wednesday that the province is in a better position than it was before to gradually ease mask requirements in education settings. Students will continue to wear the masks in common areas and on school buses, he added.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Is it too soon to lift mask restrictions in Quebec schools?' COVID-19: Is it too soon to lift mask restrictions in Quebec schools?
COVID-19: Is it too soon to lift mask restrictions in Quebec schools? – Feb 21, 2022

“These are calculated risks but we think there are more advantages to removing the mask,” Boileau said, referring to socializing and learning among children.

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Quebec will continue to lift more rules in the coming weeks, including eliminating the vaccine passport system. Public health officials, however, still urge the population to keep their guards up.

Drouin said that nearly two years after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the city — Feb. 27, 2020 — it is time to move to a “transition phase.” She stressed that anyone who feels unwell should take a rapid test and stay home if they have symptoms.

“We have vulnerable people and the virus is still circulating,” she said.

with files from Global News’ Olivia O’Malley and The Canadian Press

READ MORE: ‘Quebec will not abandon its efforts’ amid lagging vaccination rates among young kids

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