On Wednesday, Quebec crossed the milestone of 2,300 daily infections. A year earlier, on the same date, the province reported 1,797, or 589 fewer cases. How is the health situation in Quebec different from last year?
Even though the recent daily COVID-19 reports are similar to those of the beginning of December last year in terms of cases, deaths and hospitalizations attributable to the virus remain much lower, in part thanks to vaccination .
“The vaccine protects us well against hospitalization due to the Delta variant, so despite the fact that we have a lot of cases, we have a lot less hospitalizations. This is a big difference between the current situation and that of last year, ”summarizes Gaston De Serres, medical consultant at the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ).
From December 7 to 13, 2020, authorities reported an average of 1,788 new daily cases, 61 less than the average on the same dates this year (1,849 cases), according to INSPQ data. Despite this higher current average, there are 10 times fewer deaths than last year. During that same week, there was an average of 38 deaths in 2020, compared to 3 this year.
Quebec announced 4 additional deaths in its balance sheet of Wednesday, December 15, 2021. A year ago to the day, we were rather announcing 41 new deaths.
Maintaining the authorization of gatherings of 20 people vaccinated at Christmas will depend on the number of hospitalizations as the holiday season approaches, François Legault said earlier this week.
Much less hospitalizations
Hospitalizations are also much less frequent than on the eve of the Holidays last year. Also for the period from December 7 to 13, the number of intensive care patients is almost twice as low this year, and even almost four times less for stays outside intensive care.
How to explain the difference between the number of infections higher than last year and the number of hospitalizations and deaths which have subsided since?
“For the Delta variant, we see an efficiency [du vaccin] to protect against hospitalization which remains almost unchanged [à travers le temps] : it went from 97% two weeks after the second dose to 95% between two weeks and more after [la deuxième injection] », Explains Dr De Serres.
However, vaccine protection against infections is not the same: the efficacy between the time of the injection of the second dose and that observed 32 weeks later goes from around 92% to 75%. “What that tells us is that among the vaccinated people, we have a certain vulnerability to infection, but not to serious disease”, summarizes the medical officer.
Despite these apparently positive data compared to last year, the sustained rise in cases will inevitably have repercussions on hospitalizations, notes Dr De Serres. And the arrival of the Omicron variant is probably the biggest “disruptor” as the holiday season arrives.
La menace Omicron
With a report of 95 confirmed cases in Montreal as of Wednesday, the true presence of the Omicron variant in Quebec is still enigmatic. At the time of this writing, the Quebec government had not updated the province-wide data.
“It’s clear that the Omicron will change the picture in the short term. Is it in two weeks, a month? We don’t know, but it is certain that Quebec will not escape it ”, according to Dr. De Serres.
Already underway in the province in recent weeks, the increase in infections will necessarily be accentuated by the spread of the new contagious variant. The number of new cases is sharply increasing (29%) compared to the previous week (8220 versus 6348). This increase is marked in all age groups and in most regions.
A percentage of these cases will necessarily require hospitalization, including many unvaccinated individuals, explains the doctor, who recalls that an unvaccinated person is 20 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than a person adequately vaccinated.
“Of course, with the Delta variant, we weren’t too concerned about hospitalizations, because with 95% protection, it’s still huge. But if it drops a lot with the Omicron variant, it could be extremely difficult to prevent an influx of cases in hospitals, ”believes the medical officer.
However, several questions remain unanswered as to the dangerousness of the variant and its impact on hospitalizations. “While we were just beginning to tame the Delta variant, the Omicron variant, by its very contagious nature, asks us to question our decisions in connection with health measures”, argued the Ministry of Health and Services social by email at Duty.
The Federal Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, declared Wednesday that the progression of the Omicron variant internationally “makes him fear the worst. Canadians should now reconsider any non-essential travel plans outside the country during the holidays, according to Ottawa.