Tag Archives: Quebec

Quebec imposes earlier curfew for Montreal and Laval

The latest:

Some provinces are strengthening public health measures amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, with Quebec on Thursday tightening restrictions in regions of concern and B.C. announcing a new workplace closure order to deal with outbreaks.

In Quebec, Montreal and the suburb of Laval are seeing their curfew return to 8 p.m. starting on Sunday, Premier François Legault announced at an afternoon news conference.

Legault said even though transmission rates are currently stable in the Montreal area, he wants to prevent the situation from worsening.

“The level of contagion is very high and we expect it to accelerate even more,” Legault said.


People wait in line at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, on Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

As well, stricter lockdown measures that are in place in Quebec City, Lévis, Gatineau and Beauce are being extended.

Schools, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, hair salons and other non-essential businesses will now remain closed in those regions until at least April 18. Religious gatherings will also be limited to 25 people and the overnight curfew will remain at 8 p.m. until at least that date.

Quebec on Thursday reported 1,609 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. A provincial dashboard put the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 566, with 132 people reported to be in the province’s intensive care units.

Meanwhile, British Columbia reported a record high of 1,293 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the spread is fuelled by social gatherings that then spread into workplaces.

“It is not OK to have friends and family over right now. It is not OK to go on a weekend getaway. That is not essential — nor is your ski trip just because you have a pass. It is not OK to have a wedding, a birthday. All of these need to be postponed for now,” she said.


People enjoy a patio in the Yaletown neighbourhood of Vancouver on Tuesday. B.C. imposed a three-week ‘circuit breaker’ on March 20 that included suspending indoor dining. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Henry announced a new workplace closure order that will allow WorkSafeBC to operate under the Public Health Act. When three or more employees at a workplace test positive for COVID-19, it will be closed down for 10 days.

Essential workplaces like police departments, fire stations and grocery stores are exempt.

The province also reported two additional COVID-19 deaths on Thursday. There are currently 336 people in hospital, with 101 in intensive care, officials said.

– From CBC News and the Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Ontario essential workers facing financial crunch as stay-at-home order begins:

Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council, says workers in restaurants, grocery stores and big box stores are facing the potential of reduced hours and less income as Ontario issues another stay-at-home order. 0:53

As of 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 1,036,029 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 64,430 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,211.

Health officials in Ontario on Thursday reported 3,295 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 additional deaths. According to data published by the province, hospitalizations stood at 1,417, with 525 people in intensive care units “due to COVID-related illness.”

The latest figures came after a stay-at-home order came into effect across Ontario in response to worsening COVID-19 trends in the province.


People shop for essential items only at Costco as the company was forced to block off aisles and sections that have been deemed non-essential during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Thursday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

“The reality is, despite everything we’ve done so far, the COVID-19 situation in Ontario is getting worse as these new variants continue to spread,” Premier Doug Ford said at a briefing announcing the order on Wednesday. “Our hospitals are reaching capacity and patients in the GTA must now be sent to other parts of the province for care.”

Under the stay-at-home order, stores that sell goods such as groceries, cleaning supplies and pharmacy products can remain open but only to sell essential items. Non-essential retail can open for curbside pickup or delivery only.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. There are 20 people in hospital due to COVID-19, the most in the province since the pandemic began, including 13 in intensive care.

WATCH | Coronavirus variant driving N.B. outbreak:

New Brunswick has the largest number of people in hospital with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical health officer, noting the outbreak is largely driven by the highly transmissible variant first reported in the U.K. She also said the age of the patients is getting younger. 1:01

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia reported five new cases on Thursday, while Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island each reported one new case.

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut on Thursday.

Yukon’s chief medical officer of health said Wednesday it’s too early to lift COVID-19 restrictions in the territory. This despite the fact that Yukon has no new COVID-19 cases and about 68 per cent of residents have received at least one vaccine dose.

Dr. Brendan Hanley says there are too many cases involving variants in neighbouring jurisdictions and there’s a territorial election taking place.

WATCH | Manitoba premier gets vaccinated:

Brian Pallister received his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Thursday. Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, administered the shot. The premier says he’s proud to do his part to keep his family and community safe from COVID-19. 0:57

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 139 new cases and three additional deaths on Thursday. The province also announced its first death linked to the B117 coronavirus variant first reported in the U.K., a man in his late 70s from the Winnipeg health region who died in late March.

Saskatchewan reported 205 new cases and two additional deaths on Thursday. There are 206 in hospital due to COVID-19, including 41 people in intensive care.

Starting Friday morning, anyone in the province 55 and over will be eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

Meanwhile, Alberta reported 1,429 new cases and three new deaths on Thursday. Hospitals were treating 340 patients for the illness, including 83 people in ICU beds.

People infected with highly contagious variants now make up about 45 per cent of all active cases in the province, health officials said.

Vaccination clinics are set to open at the Cargill meat-packing plant in southern Alberta, officials announced earlier in the day. An outbreak last spring saw at least 950 employees — nearly half its workforce — test positive and was linked to three deaths.

– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world


People stand by the National Covid Memorial Wall beside St Thomas’ hospital in London on Thursday. The half-kilometre-long wall consists of around 150,000 painted red hearts to represent lives lost to COVID-19 in the U.K. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

As of Thursday evening, more than 133.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University case-tracking tool. The global death toll stood at nearly 2.9 million.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday warned of the risk of a permanent divergence in the global economy, and urged major economies to strive to provide significant amounts of new fiscal support to secure a robust recovery.

In a statement to the steering committees of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Yellen underscored the need to continue supporting the world’s poorest countries as they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and high debt burdens.

She urged the World Bank to support developing countries and ensure they get timely access to COVID-19 vaccines, and said the U.S. supported accelerated negotiation to replenish the World Bank’s International Development Association fund for the poorest countries.

The African Union has dropped plans to buy COVID-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India and is exploring options with Johnson & Johnson, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters on Thursday.

The institute will still supply the AstraZeneca vaccine to Africa through the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, said Dr. John Nkengasong, but the African Union would seek additional supplies from Johnson & Johnson.

In the Asia-Pacific region, new coronavirus cases in India hit a record Thursday at 126,789, while deaths rose 685 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November. 

Dozens of cities and towns are imposing night curfews to try to contain the surge but the federal government has refused to impose a second nationwide lockdown for fear of hurting the economy.


Health workers attach a notice about the shortage of coronavirus vaccine supplies at a vaccination centre in Mumbai on Thursday. Despite India being the world’s largest producer of vaccines, several states say they are running low on shots. (Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters)

Indonesia’s health minister said the schedule for around 100 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines faced delays.

Health officials in South Korea said they will decide whether to resume administering AstraZeneca vaccines to people 60 and younger over the weekend. The injections were paused while regulators in Europe reviewed a possible link between the shots and rare blood clots.

Australia, meanwhile, has moved to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine by recommending it not be given to people under 50. The announcement came after drug regulators held a series of urgent meetings earlier in the day.

The Philippines suspended use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people under 60 to investigate reports about blood clots.

In Europe, Spain plans to join other European nations in limiting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said after meeting with regional health chiefs Wednesday that authorities will limit the use of the vaccine in those over 60.

The decision came after the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots.

Last week, Germany and France limited the vaccine to elderly groups, and earlier Wednesday British authorities recommended that the vaccine not be given to adults under 30. Belgium said Wednesday it would not allow its use for people under age 56.

The EMA advised no such age restrictions, saying the benefits of the vaccine far exceed the very rare cases of thrombosis.

In the Americas, Mexico’s president says he plans to get the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to boost confidence in the shot.

The vaccine is one of several being used for people over 60 in Mexico’s current round of vaccinations. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, 67, say the benefits far outweigh any risks of a rare blood-clotting disorder.

In Brazil, the country saw a new record of 4,249 coronavirus deaths in a day. More than 345,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, making it the second-deadliest outbreak of COVID-19 after the United States.

In the Middle East, Iran has hit a new coronavirus infection record for the third straight day, reporting 22,586 new cases. The country is grappling with a spike after millions defied government guidance against gathering and travelling during Nowruz, the nation’s biggest holiday.

The new case count Thursday pushes Iran’s total during the pandemic over two million. The additional 185 reported deaths increased the confirmed total to 63,884 deaths in the country of 83 million.


People walk in the bazaar or market, in the town of Pishva, south of Tehran, Iran, on Thursday. (Vahid Salemi/The Associated Press)

The Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain has announced that starting next month, residents who can prove that they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be able to attend gyms, indoor restaurants, mass sporting events, conferences, spas and cinemas.

– From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 9:05 p.m. ET

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CBC | Health News

After back-and-forth week, Quebec signals willingness to play by new rules set by COVID variants

Just over one month ago, amid a lull in Quebec’s COVID-19 infection rates, the province’s leading public health official, Dr. Horacio Arruda, used a colourful metaphor to describe the threat posed by more contagious variants of the virus.

“We are right now in a period of calm seas,” he said. “But underneath there are sharks, and those sharks are the variants.”

Despite the warning, the government decided to authorize swimming in these shark-infested waters.

In the ensuing weeks, rules were relaxed across much of the province. The Quebec City area and the Outaouais were among the regions reclassified as orange zones. Restaurant dining rooms and gyms were reopened. There was hope in the air.

Even in Montreal — a perennial trouble spot — extracurricular school activities and large religious gatherings were permitted again. Older high-school students were told to go back to full-time, in-person classes.

But on Tuesday, Premier François Legault played the role of Chief Brody in the movie Jaws. Get out of the water, he told the province.


Quebec Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda responds to a question during Tuesday’s news conference in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

At a news conference in Montreal, he announced he was cancelling the small freedoms recently granted to residents of the greater Montreal area: gyms will close, extracurriculars will stop, religious services will be capped at 25 people max.

Last week, he announced a series of harsher measures for the Quebec City area and the Outaouais, where cases have grown at exponential rates.

Controlling the variants

Epidemiologists and other health experts had warned the government in March it was making a high-odds bet by lifting measures even though the variants were clearly gaining ground.

The normally staid public health research institute the INSPQ said bluntly on March 26 that the provincial measures in place “were insufficient to control the variants.”

But Arruda, Legault and Health Minister Christian Dubé — le trio, as the francophone press calls them — insisted the moves were justified because hospitalizations were continuing to decrease at the same time as elderly Quebecers were being vaccinated.

In an interview with La Presse last week, Arruda spelled out, with surprising candour, the province’s strategy to a younger journalist.

“If I have 2,000 [new] cases [a day] in Quebec, but we don’t have significant hospitalizations or deaths, we can live with that,” he said.

“Because older people are protected, we will, of course, have people your age who will find themselves in intensive care and die, which is horrible. But is it better if you close everything, and people break the rules in secret?”   

Avoiding Ontario’s fate

At the moment, Quebec is averaging 1,200 cases per day, and so far, hospitalizations haven’t returned to the critical levels seen around Christmas.

Legault said Tuesday he hoped by taking action now, before hospitalizations rise quickly, he can avoid the situation facing Ontario, where intensive care units are hitting capacity and many schools are set to close to in-person learning again.

“It’s a matter of days, or at most, weeks,” he said, before Quebec’s hospital numbers begin to tick upward.

The new measures announced Tuesday, along with those introduced last week, bring more coherence to the government’s message. The added restrictions reflect the danger of a virus that has been turbo-charged by variants.

“It was the right thing to do. We needed to be more proactive,” said Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist at the Université de Montréal health centre, following Legault’s announcement.

“The models showed we risked having an exponential growth in cases if we kept the measures as they were before.”

WATCH | Quebec being ‘proactive’ with new measures, says infectious diseases specialist:

Dr. Cécile Tremblay says by tightening measures and offering up AstraZeneca to people 55 and up, the province is trying to keep the third wave under control. 3:10

But the abrupt pivot — from downplaying the dangers of the third wave to re-imposing lockdown measures — has exposed the government to criticism that its public health approach is haphazard. And there are signs its credibility has been damaged.

On the one hand, the government faced protests last week in several Montreal-area schools where students and parents wanted more, not fewer, public health measures in place.

On the other hand, its flip-flop caused whiplash, bitterness and confusion in and around Quebec City. Over the weekend, police there received more than double their usual number of calls about illegal gatherings.

The new rules

Legault wouldn’t admit he had made a mistake by lifting measures last month. “We won’t stop ourselves from providing freedom when we’re able to do so, or closing things again when it’s necessary,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, the premier has made clear the government’s priority is protecting the health-care network, as opposed to eliminating the virus outright (which was the stated goal of the Atlantic provinces, for example).

Arruda’s comments to La Presse last week only made it apparent what the trade-offs are.

It is a bargain the public has found reasonable to date. Freedom was maximized for the least vulnerable — school-aged children — and progressively reduced for the most vulnerable, especially the elderly.

WATCH | Youth who toil in grocery stores, cafés and restaurants feel the strain:

As the stress of the pandemic wears on, Quebec’s young adults do the essential work that is often overlooked. 3:54

Some in long-term care homes were effectively confined to their rooms for months on end as the virus circulated widely in the community. In turn, they were first up when vaccines became available.

But the more contagious variants of COVID-19 have upended the terms of the bargain. The old methods for containing transmission are no longer enough to prevent the virus from spreading like wildfire, and vaccines can’t be rolled out fast enough to prevent younger people from ending up in hospital.

With the measures announced over the last week, the Legault government signalled it is no longer just talking about these new realities of the pandemic — it has started to adjust to them as well.

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CBC | Health News

Quebec expands COVID-19 lockdown, and worry in Ontario over hospitals

The latest:

New COVID-19 restrictions will go into effect in Quebec Monday evening as the province tries to deal with rising COVID-19 case numbers involving more contagious variants.

The provincial government said the curfew will move from 9:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday evening in the regional municipalities of Beauce-Sartigan, Bellechasse, Les Etchemins, Nouvelle-Beauce and Robert-Cliche.

Non-essential businesses will have to close starting Monday evening, as will restaurant dining rooms. Schools will also have to close for in-person learning. The measures will be in place until at least April 12, the province said.

The Quebec government imposed the same restrictions on three other cities last week, including Quebec City and Gatineau.

Quebec reported 1,252 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths on Monday. According to a provincial dashboard, hospitalizations stood at 503, with 123 in intensive care.

The expanded restrictions in parts of Quebec come as several provinces face mounting COVID-19 case numbers and increasing hospitalizations, prompting concern about strain on health-care systems.

Ontario on Monday reported figures covering two days, for a total of 5,979 new cases of COVID-19 and 22 additional deaths.

According to figures released Monday, hospitalizations in Ontario stood at 942, with 494 people in “ICU due to COVID-related critical illness.” Of those in ICU, 469 were still testing positive for COVID-19, the update said.

In Toronto, Mayor John Tory said the city is working on a plan to vaccinate high-risk people at their places of work.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:40 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada


People stand outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test centre at London Bridge Station, in London, Britain, April 5, 2021. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

As of 12:40 p.m. ET on Monday, Canada had reported 1,011,238 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 61,007 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,088.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.

In New Brunswick, health officials reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.  Fourteen patients are hospitalized with the disease, including eight in intensive care, the province said.

The update came a day after health officials said a hospital in northwestern New Brunswick is nearing its capacity for acute care patients, according to a statement released by the Vitalité Health Network over the weekend. 

“The evolution of the variant and its atypical behaviours are creating problems that exceed the pessimistic projections that had been made for that region,” the statement from the organization’s president and CEO Dr. France Desrosiers said. “The Edmundston Regional Hospital will soon reach its maximum capacity in terms of patients requiring acute care.”

Desrosiers, who praised the efforts of front-line workers and health-care staff, noted that the transfer of patients to other facilities “is imminent.”

Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador had not yet reported updated figures Monday.

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon on Sunday.

WATCH | Nunavut premier celebrates turning a COVID-19 corner:

Arviat once hosted Nunavut’s worst COVID-19 outbreak. But with almost one-third of the territory’s population fully immunized and travel restrictions easing, Premier Joe Savikataaq visited his hometown to share his appreciation with those who helped turn the corner. 2:17

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba did not provide an update on COVID-19 on Sunday.

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 221 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 194, with 44 people in intensive care due to COVID-19, the highest figure recorded in the province.

In Alberta, a preliminary estimate of new case numbers reported Sunday stood at 950, the province’s top doctor said in a tweet. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said hospitalizations remained stable, noting that health officials would provide an update on Monday.

WATCH | COVID-19 ‘disaster’ on the doorstep,’ says Calgary ER physician:

Calgary is in the midst of explosive COVID-19 growth, which is driven by variants, says Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician. He says leaders have been slow to respond to this ‘five-alarm fire.’ 5:55

British Columbia will provide updated case numbers later Monday. Businesses putting staff and patrons at risk by remaining open in defiance of COVID-19 rules will face consequences, the province’s public safety minister said Sunday as the province works to bring surging infections under control.

The warning from Mike Farnworth comes after a Vancouver restaurant that flouted restrictions by serving patrons indoors was slapped with a closure notice on Saturday, which its owner has indicated she intends to ignore.

“Harassment of enforcement officials will not be tolerated, and closure orders by Vancouver Coastal Health or any other health authority must be respected,” Farnworth said in a statement.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 11:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world


Quebec reported 1,154 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and nine additional deaths. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

As of early Monday afternoon, more than 131.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.8 million.

In the Americas, starting Monday, any adult in Florida is eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. In addition, the state announced that teens ages 16 and 17 can also get the vaccine with parental permission.

Johnson & Johnson is taking over “full responsibility” for a subcontractor’s Baltimore facility that produces the drug substance for its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine after an embarrassing mix-up. The company said it’s adding leaders in operations and quality control to the Emergent BioSolutions plant to supervise the work of its vaccine line.

It comes after enough drug substance for about 15 million doses was contaminated by human error at the plant. The issue was flagged to federal regulators, who have yet to approve any doses from the Baltimore plant, last week.

J&J has delivered about 20 million doses from another plant to the federal government already and says it expects to deliver about 80 million more by the end of May.

LISTEN | ‘I call it … one endless Wednesday’: More than one year in, pandemic burnout is real, author says:

Front Burner21:48Pandemic burnout is real

Today on Front Burner, Anne Helen Petersen explains the forces behind burnout and why more and more Canadians are struggling with it one year into a global pandemic that has altered the way many of us work and live. 21:48

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippine government extended a lockdown by another week Monday after an alarming spike in coronavirus infections continued to surge and started to overwhelm many hospitals in the capital and outlying regions.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed Metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces, a region of more than 25 million people, under lockdown last week as daily infections breached 10,000. Roman Catholic leaders shifted Holy Week and Easter events online after all public gatherings, including in places of worship, were temporarily banned.

Bangladesh began enforcing a weeklong nationwide lockdown Monday, shutting shopping malls and transportation as authorities try to stop a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.

The decision came after health authorities said that they were facing overwhelming pressure in intensive care units in recent weeks because of severe infections. This is the second time the South Asian nation has enforced a virus lockdown after the first last March.

India has reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and officials in the hard-hit state home to Mumbai are returning to the closure of some businesses and places of worship in a bid to slow the spread.


Medical workers fill a box with traditional Easter cakes known as Colomba as they prepare to tour the COVID-19 ward of the GVM Maria Pia Hospital in Turin on Sunday. (Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)

The Health Ministry on Monday reported 103,558 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, topping the previous peak of 97,894 daily cases recorded in late September. Fatalities rose by 478, raising the country’s death toll to 165,101.

India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 73,000 cases per day and infections in the country are being reported faster than anywhere else in the world.

In the Middle East, Iran’s capital is once again facing the highest level of restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus as the country struggles with a new surge in daily deaths. State media said the measure on Monday is the third time Tehran has faced a so-called code red since the pandemic began. A code red involves a ban on any travel by personal cars to and from cities and limits working hours of many businesses and offices to prevent the spread of the virus.

About 50 cities and towns are in code red, with only 23 in code blue, or “safe” status, out of the country’s total of more than 800 cities and towns. The rest are in orange and yellow status, which involve fewer restrictions.

The report comes as Iran’s daily death toll again reached three digits, after months of being under 100. On Sunday, 161 deaths were reported, bringing the registered death toll in Iran to more than 63,000, the highest in the Middle East. Iran has reported some 1.9 million confirmed cases of the virus

Also on Monday, Iran said it received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the Netherlands through the global COVAX initiative. 

In Africa, South Africa’s health minister said Sunday that the number of confirmed cases in the country — the hardest-hit on the continent — stood at more than 1.5 million, with nearly 53,000 recorded deaths.

In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday his government was hopeful that non-essential international travel would restart from May 17, but did not want to underestimate the growing number of COVID-19 cases elsewhere. He said a task force would report later this week to set out what might be a “reasonable” plan.


A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine for COVID-19 at a residential area in Ahmedabad, India, on Sunday. (Ajit Solanki/The Associated Press)

France’s health minister warned Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients in the country’s intensive care units could reach levels seen during the first crisis a year ago. France’s hospitals have already surpassed the number of coronavirus ICU patients seen during the second surge in November, and Olivier Veran said on TF1 television that “it’s possible we could approach” the ICU saturation levels of April 2020.

Portugal on Sunday extended until April 15 restrictions on travel via land and sea to Spain that had been due to end this weekend.

Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco told the Financial Times newspaper that the biggest threat to a global economic recovery is the irregular pace at which countries are vaccinating their populations against COVID-19.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 12:40 p.m. ET


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CBC | Health News

Quebec City, Lévis, Gatineau head back into lockdown as COVID-19 variants spread

Quebec Premier François Legault says Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau will be essentially shut down for 10 days starting Thursday at 8 p.m. ET to curb the “exponential” rise of COVID-19 cases in these three cities.

Schools will be closed, and students will move to full-time online learning in those three cities.

Gyms, theatres, hairdressers and other non-essential businesses are also shutting down in the three cities, Legault said on Wednesday. Religious gatherings will be limited to 25 people, and there will also be an 8 p.m.– 5 a.m. curfew until at least April 12.

“The situation is critical. It is deteriorating in these three cities,” Legault said. “People have to remain at home unless they absolutely have to go to work.”

With Easter weekend on the way, Legault stressed the importance of staying home and not gathering because COVID-19 variants are on the rise throughout Quebec.

More than half of the cases of COVID-19 recorded in the province will be linked to variants by the beginning of April, according to modelling by Quebec’s public health institute. Public health officials have confirmed that a third wave is underway, and those who are unvaccinated in the 40 to 60 age range are at particularly high risk.

The variant first detected in the United Kingdom is the most prevalent in Quebec. Of the more than 7,400 cases linked to variants in the province, Montreal has the highest concentration, with about 3,000 so far. Quebec City is nearing 1,000 variant infections, and Outaouais is nearing 500.

“The alarm is sounding,” Legault said. “We cannot make any exceptions.”

Hospitalizations have not spiked in these three areas, he added, but they may soon.

“We must act quickly,” Legault said. “Everywhere in Quebec, we have to be more careful.”

Though schools will be closed, daycare services will be made available to those who work in essential services. Parents are expected to keep kids home if they can, and only use these services if they are leaving home to work.

WATCH | Legault explains the new lockdown measures:

Quebec Premier François Legault announced a return to strict restrictions for several cities in the province including Gatineau, which will close non-essential businesses and schools and return to an 8 p.m. curfew. 1:14

Legault is also announcing that four regions are moving from orange to red, in accordance with the province’s colour-coded alert system.

The Outaouais, Chaudière-Appalaches, Lower Saint-Lawrence and the Quebec City region will return to red zones.

Legault said it is time to crack down now and adjust as needed as more data is gathered. Montreal is not affected by the increased restrictions, but that may change as the situation evolves, he said.

Cities see spike in cases

Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau have been orange zones for more than two weeks, allowing restaurants to welcome diners and gyms to open. But bars remained closed, and indoor gatherings were still prohibited, with guests allowed only under specific circumstances.

With restrictions loosened, cases jumped. In the Quebec City area, 194 more cases were recorded on Wednesday, for a total of 990 active cases there.

“When we go from 50 to 200 cases per day, we are going to have an impact on hospitalizations,” Legault said.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said there may be 250 cases reported Thursday and that’s why the government can no longer wait. If hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients, other medical services will have to be delayed, he said.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said the variants are spreading fast, and it is likely because people are ignoring public health rules.

“We have to intervene,” he said.

Travel to 3 cities only for essentials

Arruda said travel to Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau will not be restricted, but it is “highly recommended” that people avoid these zones because there is such a high rate of transmission. People should only go there for essential reasons, he said.

Earlier in the day, Quebec City’s public health director, Dr. André Dontigny, voiced his concern about the rise in cases and said the current measures weren’t sufficient. A local gym linked to nearly 70 infections was shut down. 

The gym’s management sent out a notice to patrons late last week encouraging anybody who attended the facility since March 14 to get tested as they may have contracted what is suspected to be a COVID-19 variant.

Dubé said the rate at which the disease spread at the gym shows just how extremely contagious COVID-19 variants are when people gather indoors. He said this outbreak should serve as a reminder to those thinking about ignoring public health restrictions and gathering over the holiday weekend or in the weeks to come.

In the Ottawa-Gatineau region, the number of active cases surpassed 2,000 over the weekend as the situation in Ontario worsened.

Legault scaled back public health restrictions in all but the Montreal region on March 8.

Since then, the curfew has been eased — from 8 to 9:30 p.m. — in the Montreal area, gyms were allowed to open and a few other rules were relaxed in the metropolitan area.

Specialist says restrictions should be tightened

Dr. Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist in Montreal, said tightening the restrictions in some of the harder-hit areas in Quebec is going to send an important message to the residents there — showing them that they need to avoid gathering indoors and close contact with others so as to prevent transmission.

“One of the things that has to be clear is that we are not out of the woods, and we are back in dangerous territory,” Kakkar said.

She suspects a false sense of security is spreading through the population as spring approaches, but, she said, people are forgetting that the pandemic is still very real.


Students enter the Pierre Laporte Secondary School in Montreal Monday as all high school grades return to classes full time. Montreal is unaffected by the new lockdown, but in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau schools will move to full-time remote learning. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Kakkar supports sending high school students back to school full time and says it is crucial because kids need social interaction for their mental health. 

“As pediatricians, we weigh the risk of infection versus not being in school, and that risk of not being in school has just been so detrimental to so many teens that I think it’s still worthwhile trying to keep kids in school,” Kakkar said.

However, she said, facilities and businesses associated with elective activities, such as gyms and restaurants, should remain closed mainly because of the variants of the disease, which are proving to be more contagious and dangerous.

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Nurses fired after Atikamekw woman ‘humiliated’ at Quebec clinic

Two nurses at a health clinic in Joliette, Que., were fired Tuesday afternoon after an Atikamekw woman revealed they had taunted her with racist insults.

The incident occurred in the same regional health network where, six months ago, another Atikamekw woman — Joyce Echaquan — died not long after recording the racist treatment she received from hospital staff.

Jocelyne Ottawa, 62, said she was treated with disdain by two nurses at the clinic in Joliette, about 70 kilometres northeast of Montreal, which she visited last Friday to have a bandage changed on her foot.

“One of them told me, when she saw my name in the folder: “We’re going to call you Joyce, for short,’ Ottawa recalled in an interview with Radio-Canada.

“Then they asked me if I could sing them a song in Atikamekw.”

Ottawa also said that one of the nurses took her cellphone and that, when Ottawa realized it was missing, the nurse said: “I have it in my hand.” Ottawa told her: “You have no business looking at my cellphone.”

Firings meant to send message, health authority says

Ottawa said she felt humiliated and intimidated and, later, posted a message on Facebook about her experience.

“I told myself: ‘Why are they saying this to me? Is it to mock Joyce, once again?'”

The regional health authority, the CISSS de Lanaudière, which operates the clinic and the hospital, initially suspended the nurses without pay pending an investigation.

In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, the health authority said the nurses had been fired.

“The comments made by the two employees showed a disregard for the code of ethics of the nursing profession and the code of ethics of our organization,” Caroline Barbir, the interim head of the CISSS de Lanaudière, said in the statement.

“The CISSS de Lanaudière has a zero-tolerance policy about behaviour that is racist, discriminatory and intimidating. I want that message to be heard loud and clear.”

Ottawa’s revelations renewed concern about the way Indigenous people are treated by health-care workers in Joliette and across Quebec.

Echaquan died in the hospital after she used her cellphone to film staff making derogatory comments about her. The video, which was posted live to Facebook, was shared around the world.

The previous head of the Lanaudière health authority was removed from his post last December in the wake of Echaquan’s death.

Quebec’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said Tuesday it’s clear there is more work to do. But he maintained the government’s controversial position that systemic racism does not exist in the province.

Change will take time, he said, and training will need to be implemented across the province and even then, attending a course won’t solve everything.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so shocked. I’m so disappointed … Can we guarantee that it won’t happen again? The answer is no.”


The CISSS de Lanaudière, which operates the clinic and the hospital in Joliette, said it has a zero-tolerance policy for racist behaviour. (Jean-Michel Cotnoir/Radio-Canada)

The two nurses who were fired were among more than 4,200 CISSS employees who attended a cultural safety awareness session, an approach put in place in November. Further training is planned for health-care professionals across the province.

Nancy Bédard, president of the province’s largest nurses union, the FIQ, said her organization is committed to the fight against violence and racism, whether based on gender, race or cultural background.

“We strongly denounce any gesture and any behaviour conveying intolerance or racism. “

The case for Joyce’s Principle

For Sipi Flamand, deputy chief for the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, the latest incident is further proof the province must adopt what is called Joyce’s Principle, which aims to guarantee that Indigenous people have equitable access to health and social services without discrimination.

“As long as Joyce’s Principle is not adopted, there will still always be systemic racism and the Quebec government has the obligation to recognize it,” Flamand said.

Ottawa said she returned to the clinic on Monday, despite being unsettled by her earlier experience. 

“I have no choice. I need care,” she said.

“I’d like to tell them that we, Indigenous people, are human beings in our own right. And we have a right to get the same care as any other individual no matter their race.”


Joyce Echaquan’s death, following racist remarks, last year at the hospital in Joliette, led to calls for Indigenous people to have equitable access to health and social services without discrimination. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

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Olympic champion Kingsbury calls for urgent action to allow sport in Quebec schools

Quebec mogul king Mikael Kingsbury is calling for the return of sport in schools.

In an open letter on Wednesday to Quebec Premier François Legault, the reigning Olympic and world moguls champion says urgent action is needed amid the COVID-19 restrictions.

“I am worried about the situation of young athletes,” wrote the 28-year-old freestyle skiing star. “The health of thousands of young people is at risk.”

Inspired in part by his own experiences growing up, Kingsbury is lending his voice to the efforts of a 16-year-old high school student, Isaac Pépin, who has been urging the provincial government to show flexibility in its approach to sport in schools.

WATCH | Kingsbury writes open letter to Quebec Premier François Legault:

Days before the world championship, the moguls skier writes an open letter to Quebec Premier urging the government to get kids out of their houses. 5:49

Kingsbury told CBC Sports in an exclusive interview on Thursday that the plea is something he understands all too well.

“Having grown up skiing and playing baseball with my friends, sport is a motivator. A source of meaning,” he said, adding that sport was a big part of what helped keep him coming back to class.

For the 28-year-old native of Deux-Montagnes, Que., it’s also a question of mental as well as physical health.

“I am worried that young people are lost. That they are abandoning sport in favour of screens,” Kingsbury wrote in his letter to Legault.

This is why Kingsbury supports Pépin’s calls for the resumption of supervised sport.

‘I got dizzy’

“I stopped this week and wondered what I would do if I was this young man deprived of sport for a year in a period of a pandemic,” Kingsbury wrote.

“I got dizzy! I wouldn’t have had the capacity to survive a full year without my passion. I tell you very simply: I would be adrift. I am convinced that sports clubs, sports organizations and federations have the capacities, the means, but above all the determination necessary to protect young people and their families. Before, during and after sports practice.”

And Kingsbury feels the time to act is now.

“It’s been a year where people across Canada, but especially in Quebec, have not been able to play collective sports,” he told CBC Sports. “It’s like a year the kids are losing and will never get back again.”

WATCH | Kingsbury reflects on consecutive World Cup victories:

A day after winning his 1st event in Deer Valley, reigning Olympic and world moguls champion Mikael Kingsbury from Deux-Montagnes, Que., earns his 2nd straight victory with a win in dual moguls. 1:35

Legault said he understands the frustration, but also the importance of sport on mental health during a COVID-19 update on Wednesday.

“People who know me know that I do a lot of sports,” Legault said. “Sports is important. There’s nothing better to decrease stress levels, and it’s important for mental heath. But we all agree that certain sports, at the very least, we might get too close and bring about contagion.”

While discussions with sports federations are still ongoing, Legault will offer more of an update next week and acknowledged that “as of March 15th, everywhere in Quebec will be able to start outside school activities.”

Meanwhile, Kingsbury — who only recently returned to action in February after fracturing his T4 and T5 vertebrate in November prior to the opening of the freestyle ski season — is in Kazakhstan gearing up for freestyle skiing world championships in Almaty.

He says the passion that Pépin and fellow organizers have exhibited for sport has given him extra motivation to win. 

“[They] are only asking for one thing: to breathe new life into young people by allowing them to reconnect with their passion.”

Kingsbury won’t be able to stand with protestors at a planned rally in front of the provincial parliament on Sunday, but remains hopeful activities will open up when he returns to his home province.

“On behalf of all athletes in Quebec, amateurs and professionals, I hope that when I return home in mid-March, sport will find its rightful place.”

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Quebec native Antony Auclair could taste Super Bowl glory tonight

There are about 1,700 people in Notre-Dame-des-Pins, a small municipality in Quebec’s Beauce region, and chances are on Sunday night they will all be watching the Super Bowl.

The community’s claim to fame, aside from a picturesque covered bridge crossing the Chaudière River, is Antony Auclair, a six-foot-six, 256-pound tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Auclair’s success is a major point of pride for the town of Notre-Dame-des-Pins. Strung up along the side of Highway 173 is a banner that cheers on Auclair’s team.

The town’s mayor, Lyne Bourque, wears a signed Buccaneers mask as a show of support.


The town of Notre-Dame-des-Pins is showing its support for homegrown football star Antony Auclair. (Radio-Canada)

Now in his fourth season with Tampa Bay, Auclair signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2017 after playing at Laval University in Quebec City.

If Laurent Duvernay-Tardif hadn’t opted out of the NFL season to work on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis in Quebec, two of the province’s homegrown football pros would be facing off as the Buccaneers go up against last year’s champs, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Following in the footsteps of Duvernay-Tardif, Auclair will become the 17th Canadian to appear in a Super Bowl, though there’s a good chance he won’t get playing time because he’s not on the starting line.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Auclair’s younger brother Adam, a defensive back for the Ottawa Redblacks, is in Tampa Bay to cheer on his brother’s team in person.

“It’s kind of crazy to live this with my brother,” he told CBC’s All in a Weekend“I’m pretty excited about the game. I’m excited to feel the vibe of the Super Bowl even if there are less fans in the building.”

Adam said he wasn’t sure about travelling to the U.S. because of the pandemic restrictions, but he ultimately decided that this was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” he couldn’t pass up.

Beyond that, he said everyone who will be in attendance at the game has to present a COVID-19 negative test.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Antony Auclair pictured with his parents, Julien Auclair and Marie-Andrée Quirion, who are both from Notre-Dame-des-Pins. (Pascal Ratthé/Radio-Canada)

Auclair’s parents will be watching from their home in Notre-Dame-des-Pins, and according to Adam, “they are going to be really, really close to the TV.”

Hard work pays off

Auclair is one of a handful of people who have graduated from playing football at a Canadian university to securing a spot in the NFL.

Adam attributes his brother’s success to his work ethic, saying he is one of the hardest working members of the team.

“When I was playing with him at Laval, he was always, after every practice, going to the gym. Or studying plays before he went to bed. He was always giving more than anyone else on the team. And he’s also a great leader, he’s a leader who will show by example and I think that’s what the coaches over there liked about him.”


Antony Auclair played for the Rouge et Or in Quebec City before going pro. (Laval University Rouge et Or)

This sentiment is echoed by Auclair’s former coaches.

“He always wanted to know more. He always wanted to work harder than everyone else. He was often the first in the field,” said Mathieu Bertrand, special teams co-ordinator for the Laval Rouge et Or. “Going to the NFL is one thing, but staying there for four years is another.”

“My biggest dream now is that he can bring the Super Bowl trophy back to PEPS (Pavillon de l’éducation physique et des sports de l’Université Laval) sometime in the spring,” said head coach Glen Constantin.


In this 2017 file photo, Adam Auclair of Laval University accepts the Presidents’ Trophy for outstanding defensive player during the U Sports All-Canadian Football Awards Gala. (Aaron Lynett/The Canadian Press)

True to form, Adam says Auclair is extremely focused ahead of the game.

“Even if he is probably not going to play this weekend, he is ready to play if his name gets called,” said Adam.

“I told him to enjoy every moment and I think that is really what he’s going to do. Even if he’s not playing, it’s a really big accomplishment that he’s going to be there.”

All in a Weekend11:15Adam Auclair on his brother Antony’s journey from the Beauce to the Super Bowl

Today Quebecer Antony Auclair will become only the 17th Canadian to appear in a Super Bowl. But long before he was suiting up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was squaring off against his brother Adam, outside their home in Notre-Dame-Des-Pins, in the Beauce. Adam Auclair, himself a player with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks, tells us what brought his brother to the biggest game of his career. 11:15

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Little evidence that colchicine benefits COVID-19 patients, Quebec advisory panel finds

Clinical experts with the Quebec government say there isn’t enough evidence yet for them to recommend widespread use of colchicine to treat COVID-19 patients, dampening hopes the drug could be a short-term tool to reduce hospitalizations and deaths.

Last month, the Montreal Heart Institute released a statement vaunting the results of a clinical trial that found the rate of hospitalization or death was 21 per cent lower among patients who took colchicine, compared to a placebo. It reported even more impressive results among “patients with a proven diagnosis.” 

The findings made headlines around the world. Premier François Legault called the results “big news.”

Colchicine is a cheap, widely available drug in Canada, well-known to doctors for its effectiveness at treating gout. And so far physicians have struggled to find effective drug treatments for the new disease.

The news release, though, left out key elements of the study. When the researchers released more detailed findings, their peers in the medical community struck a more cautious tone.


The $ 14-million colchicine study was funded by the Quebec government and several organizations. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

McGill’s Office for Science and Society joined several others in decrying a practise known as “science by press release,” where seemingly exciting findings are published by funding bodies before being peer-reviewed and with little in the way of data.

Amid the controversy, the Quebec provincial government’s clinical research institute (known by its French initials as the INESSS) quickly undertook its own detailed analysis of the colchicine study.

In a briefing Thursday with journalists, the INESSS experts said based on the available evidence they consider it “premature to support the use of colchicine in non-hospitalized persons with a diagnosis of COVID-19.”

Finding inconclusive, INESSS says

The $ 14-million colchicine study, funded in part by the Quebec government, was launched in March, initially with the aim of recruiting 6,000 people in six different countries.

Led by Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, director of the Montreal Heart Institute’s research centre, the investigators wanted to see whether the anti-inflammatory medication would limit symptoms of the disease in people with pre-existing medical conditions. 

But the study was halted after recruiting 4,500 participants. The researchers cited both logistical issues and the desire to get results to health-care professionals as quickly as possible, given the strain the pandemic was placing on hospital resources.

In its review, the INESSS said that was the right decision given the circumstances, and acknowledged Tardif’s hypothesis and research design were sound.

Dr. Luc Boileau, the president of the advisory body, said the move to publish the results in a press release, ahead of peer-review, was “not irresponsible but is infrequent.”

“We’re in the context of a pandemic … and there is a legitimate public interest in the results,” he said.

But following a close reading of those results, the advisory body determined there was insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions about the benefits of colchicine for COVID-19 patients.


A nurse at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, in Vermont, draws up the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer/The Associated Press)

 

The participants in the study included patients who tested positive via the gold-standard PCR test, as well as those who had been diagnosed simply by virtue of having been exposed to someone with the virus (known as an epidemiological link).

When those two groups were considered together, there was no statistically significant difference in hospitalizations or deaths between participants receiving colchicine and those receiving a placebo, said Dr. Michèle de Guise, who headed the review.

There was a statistically significant difference among those who tested positive through PCR. In this smaller group, those who received the drug were 25 per cent less likely to die or require hospitalizations when compared with the placebo group.

That was one of the findings that went into the news release put out by the Montreal Heart Institute. But when considered in absolute terms, the difference is less impressive.

In the placebo group, six per cent of the 2,084 subjects either died or required hospitalization. In the experimental group, 4.6 per cent of 2,075 subjects died or required hospitalization.

From a clinical perspective, that 1.4 percentage point difference “means that 71 patients would need to be treated with colchicine to achieve one less event,” said de Guise.

Potentially alarming side effect

The study also turned up a potentially frightening side-effect. Eleven participants who took colchicine experienced a pulmonary embolism, compared with two in the placebo group.

That alarmed the experts INESSS consulted, de Guise said.

“That was unexpected and it worried them,” she added.

The INESSS stressed its findings were preliminary and said it would review them as more data becomes available. 

In the meantime, COVID-19 patients interested in using the drug should have a discussion with their physician, said Boileau.

Quebec’s Health Ministry said it would issue guidelines on colchicine treatments for COVID-19 after taking the time to analyze the recommendations made by the INESSS.

A spokesperson for the Montreal Heart Institute said Thursday they too would read the INESSS report before commenting.

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Quebec pins all its hopes on the vaccine, but experts say action is needed on multiple fronts

The old saying holds that only fools and the dead never change their minds.

Health Minister Christian Dubé is neither of those things. Eighteen days ago, at a news conference about Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, Dubé insisted his hands were tied by Pfizer’s requirements that second doses of the two-dose protocol be held back to observe the prescribed 21-day interval between shots.

A course correction followed a few days later and this week, he announced second doses would be delayed up to 90 days.

“This is the best strategy,” he said, citing the urgency of the situation.

On Dec. 29, Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda sat next to Dubé at a news conference and alluded to the possibility that Pfizer could reduce its supply to Quebec if the province didn’t follow the recommendations, a prospect since echoed by federal officials.

Dubé this week: “We’re not asking permission.”

The reversal was sudden, it also represents an unusually aggressive move by a government whose response to the pandemic has been typified by cautious decision-making.

Going it largely alone on delaying doses for months suggests, above all else, that the Legault government is pushing its entire stack of chips onto the square marked “vaccines.”

The decision is based on the advice of experts from the province’s vaccine committee, the Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec, which studied clinical evidence. And it runs counter to guidelines from Pfizer and the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations.


Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube arrives at a COVID-19 press briefing Thursday, January 14, 2021 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

A high-stakes gamble

The contrast with other major decisions made since the turn of the year is informative. 

In the same week Dubé announced his department was going full bore on vaccination, it also announced an easing of restrictions on rapid testing.

And, last week, the province highlighted the portion of an expert panel’s report on air purifiers and filters in schools that confirmed the devices won’t interrupt the main causes of disease transmission — mainly, proximity of students — rather than the part indicating they help lower the number of viral particles in the air.


Police forces across Quebec handed out 750 tickets during the first weekend of the province’s four-week overnight curfew. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Take, as well, the provincial curfew that went into effect a week ago, which in effect relaxes a series of previously existing measures and does little to tackle what provincial statistics indicate are a key venue for transmission: workplaces, particularly in the construction and manufacturing sector.

The rationale has been that shutting down those industries on a large scale could imperil supply of essential goods.

It’s true there are few easy policy choices in the middle of a raging pandemic.

Why the unusual forcefulness and speedy action on vaccines, then? Perhaps because there is no discernible Plan B.

Still more that could be done

Many experts believe the new restrictions that went into place last Saturday won’t be enough — and argue more needs to be done in a number of areas including testing and contact tracing, stronger measures in schools and in the many workplaces that remain open.

The headline grabber of early 2021 is the curfew that requires people to stay home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Non-essential retailers, as well as non-essential offices, restaurants, bars and gyms, were ordered to remain closed, while manufacturing and construction sectors — both major sources of new outbreaks — were allowed to stay open, unhindered.

“If the manufacturing industry is accounting for ongoing community transmission, which I suspect that it is, then there needs to be more control to ensure public [health] measures there,” said Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at the McGill University Health Centre who is also a science advisor for the federal COVID-19 therapeutics task force.

Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet issued a statement Friday suggesting they may finally crack down. In a follow-up interview with Radio-Canada, he said inspectors will be “vigilant.”

“We won’t hesitate when there are violations of the health guidelines to hand out fines,” he said, though they have only handed out 21 at construction sites in the past week.

Schools, too, have been allowed to reopen. While the benefits of keeping them open are clear, Vinh said the government could still do more to get a handle on transmission, including a clearer stance on ventilation.

“If internally within schools there could be stricter public health measures, I think that would be helpful,” he said. 


Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet says certain construction sites can reopen on April 20, but strict sanitary protocols must be followed. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Premier François Legault has defended the measures by saying the curfew is a way to seize the public’s attention and to limit exposure to older people while they await the vaccine.  

He has pointed out, repeatedly, that 80 per cent of those hospitalized are over the age of 65.

But, it remains unclear whether the curfew, and the other measures in place, will be effective on that front.

Testing, testing

Then there’s the question of interrupting the contagion in the community.

As Eastern Townships Public Health Director Dr. Alain Poirier said this week, the virus “is everywhere.” Quebec has been reluctant to more widely employ rapid tests as a way to better understand exactly where the virus is spreading.

On Thursday, after 200 Quebec scientists published an open letter calling on the province to make more use of rapid tests, Dubé retreated from comments on Monday that the tests were unnecessary. 

Based on a report from a panel of internal experts issued that same day, Quebec will start using rapid tests to bolster its regular testing capacity on a limited basis, in highly specific circumstances.

Is the change of heart enough? Not in the view of Dr. David Juncker, a testing expert who is chair of biomedical engineering at McGill University and a scientific adviser to Rapid Test and Trace Canada, which advocates for a large-scale implementation of the technology.

“It’s a step in the right direction … but it’s a little bit too little, too late,” Juncker told CBC’s Quebec AM. “That’s the real risk, that we’re trapped in cycles of too little, too late here.”


Photo: Radio-Canada\ Ivanoh Demers Images pour illustrer le déconfinement économique. Photo prise dans Lanaudière, Québec, Canada. Sur la photo: (Gauche à droite) Le Costco À Terrebonne est toujours aussi populaire…. File attente, Le 28 Avril, 2020 2020/04/28 (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

He likened the government’s approach to rapid testing — which it plainly views as unreliable and a major drain on human resources — to the discussion surrounding face masks in early 2020.

Provincial public health officials initially opposed masks, before realizing they could be a key tool in preventing the spread of the virus. 

The National Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel, which issued its first report Friday, suggests rapid antigen tests could be exactly another useful tool, given the ability to test frequently and obtain instant results. 

In a technical briefing this week, officials with Quebec’s Health Ministry defended their approach to rapid tests, saying the current testing regime is perfectly adequate, and that, in any event, they don’t have enough people to deploy them at scale.

What’s frustrating to experts like the signatories of the open letter is there doesn’t appear to be a plan to develop that capacity any time soon.

‘We need to kickstart now’

Frontline doctors remain concerned about the coming weeks, with intensive care wards in Montreal at risk of being overwhelmed.

As COVID-19 cases surge in Ontario and Quebec, hospitals in both provinces are preparing in case they can’t treat everyone and laying out the criteria for determining who gets prioritized for critical care. 1:47

Even if hospitals are able to hang on until Feb. 8, when the measures are set to lift, the province isn’t expected to begin vaccinating older people outside care until the middle of the month.

Vinh said Quebec’s situation is rendered “tricky” by the fact vaccine procurement and supply are out of its control.

The announcement from Pfizer on Friday that it would temporarily reduce shipments of its vaccine to Canada due to issues with its supply chain underscored the risks involved in the Legault government’s plan.

The pharmaceutical giant is pausing some production lines at its facility in Puurs, Belgium, in order to expand long-term manufacturing capacity.

The move means Quebec will receive 8,775 doses instead of the 46,800 originally scheduled for the week of Jan. 25, and 39,000 of the 82,875 doses expected the following week.

The disruption is far from catastrophic, given the doses will be replaced in later deliveries and Quebec is also receiving tens of thousands of vaccines from Moderna. But it will have an impact. 

That was the week the province was supposed to begin vaccinating in private retirement homes.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Dubé said the supply chain hiccup merely reinforces Quebec’s decision.

“The strategy remains the same: we need to kickstart now and vaccinate as many vulnerable people and health-care workers as possible, as quickly as possible,” reads the statement.

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Quebec wants travellers returning from holidays abroad to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding planes

Travellers planning to return home to Quebec after holidaying abroad should face strict measures, including being tested for COVID-19 before hopping on a flight home and once again upon their arrival, the provincial health minister announced today.

This comes after Quebec recorded 2,381 new cases on Tuesday, along with 64 new deaths.

Saying the situation in Quebec hospitals is “critical,” particularly in the Montreal area, Christian Dubé announced he is asking the federal government for a series of measures to prevent travellers from spreading COVID-19 after returning to Quebec. They inlcude:

  • People returning to Quebec should be tested for COVID-19 before boarding their flight and not be allowed on a plane if they test positive for the virus.

  • Travellers should be subjected to rapid testing upon their arrival at international airports, such as Jean Lesage in Quebec City and Pierre Elliott Trudeau in Montreal. 

  • Dubé has also asked the federal government to tighten the enforcement of quarantine measures for travellers who have returned.

Dubé said Quebec and Ottawa “agree on these measures,” but that they are in negotiation about a timeline for implementing them. 

“If it was up to me, we would do it as of tomorrow morning,” the health minister said. “But we are in discussion with the federal government and we will continue those discussions over the next few hours.”

WATCH | Why Quebec’s health minister wants Ottawa to apply stricter rules for travellers:

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is asking the federal government to ramp up measures for travelers returning to Canada. 1:21

Dubé said the new rules are necessary to avoid the surge in cases that occurred last spring in Quebec, where spring-break travellers brought the coronavirus home from abroad and Quebec experienced the worst caseloads in the country.

“The images we’ve seen of travellers down south are shocking for everybody, especially for those following the rules and the health-care workers,” Dubé said. “We have to remember what’s happening here.”

Dubé was referring to photos on social media of maskless Quebecers dining out, dancing and drinking in close proximity to other people at resorts.

Last Thursday, the Institut national d’excellence en santé et services sociaux (INESSS) published projections about hospital needs, indicating that Quebec hospitals could run out of beds by mid-January.

 “We will go beyond our capacity and half of the designated beds are already taken up,” Dubé said. “We have to remember why we are making these sacrifices.” 

The risks of travel

Dubé warned the costs of contracting COVID-19 while abroad — or of breaking rules here — could be very steep.

He said Quebecers who test positive for COVID-19 at a foreign airport will have to find hotels to stay in and pay the cost themselves before they can return home.

He also said Quebec has no intention of going beyond standard reimbursement for health care abroad, and that travellers will have to hope their private travel insurance covers any hospitalization or medical care because RAMQ coverage is “minimal.”

The health minister also reminded Quebecers that the fines for disobeying quarantine rules once back in Canada range from $ 800 to $ 750,000.

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CBC | Health News