Quebec tightens the screws as the holidays approach

Quebec is heading towards a second Christmas in a reduced format. An unprecedented wave of contamination is forcing the government to tighten the screws on health measures again.

“It has changed completely this week”, dropped a Prime Minister François Legault “tanned”, in a press conference, alongside the Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, and the national director of public health, Dr Horacio Arruda.

Health authorities on Thursday recorded more than 3,700 new cases, an all-time high since the start of the pandemic. The Omicron variant, the most contagious strain of the coronavirus observed to date, is already circulating in the Quebec population. Hospitalizations are also increasing, and according to forecasts, there will be saturation of hospitals in January, if nothing changes.

“We are going to be hit,” warns François Legault. Social contacts must be reduced “by 50%”, the Prime Minister regretfully prescribed, and family celebrations must be limited to ten people. “Everyone’s effort will be very important. It will take courage, determination. Just two weeks ago, Mr. Legault repeated for the third time his wish that holiday gatherings of 20 to 25 people be possible.

The police authorities will not scrutinize the interior of the cottages to enforce the rule, relativized the Minister of Health. “We rely on the responsibility of Quebecers. “

From next Monday, shops, restaurants, bars, amphitheatres and places of worship will also have to reduce their capacity by half. Dancing and karaoke will again be prohibited. This time, officials “must expect” a visit from the police if the rules are not respected, warned François Legault.

This is a further blow to bars and restaurants, which regained authorization to open to their maximum capacity on 1is last november. “It’s the hecatomb,” blows Pierre Thibault, president of the New Association of Quebec Bars. Cancellations can be counted in the hundreds in some restaurants. “These are losses that hover around $ 20,000, $ 25,000 for establishments with 100 places and less. “

Amateur athletes are also affected by this tightening. All tournaments and competitions are canceled or suspended. The practice of any indoor activity is limited to 25 participants.

Primary schools, which are starting the holiday break these days, will reopen as planned in early January. High schools, CEGEPs and universities will kick off 2022 with distance education for at least a week.

The Prime Minister is not closing the door to a further tightening of measures in the near future. “It’s not impossible that next week we will have to adjust. “

Third dose

“The priority of priorities” is in vaccination, pleaded the Prime Minister. Outbreaks in double vaccinated groups multiply due to the Omicron variant, which bypasses the immune system. The injection of third doses should accelerate in January. This “important key” reduces the risk of contracting COVID-19, argued the Prime Minister.

To achieve this, the minimum time interval required between the second dose and the third dose was reduced from six to three months.

Only individuals over 70 years of age, residents of CHSLDs and health workers in contact with the public can take advantage of it for the moment.

Next Monday, people 65 and over can get an appointment for this booster dose. Quebecers aged 60 and over will be eligible as of the following Monday. The third dose will then be offered to everyone from January.

“If we are able to speed up the vaccination, we will do it,” assured Christian Dubé. Adding volunteer vaccinators “could allow us to go even faster.”

Quebec is not closing the door to an adaptation of the vaccine passport in order to allow only the “triple dosed” to pass, specified the Dr Horacio Arruda. “You cannot require a vaccination passport if people have not had the opportunity to have been vaccinated. […] When [la troisième dose] will be fairly generalized, we will be able to look at the situation. “

“Technically, it’s very easy,” said Mr. Dubé. On my phone today I have my third dose. “

Like a “first wave”

Some experts are already predicting a “bushfire” and increased hospitalizations, in the face of the lightning advance of the Omicron variant.

Already responsible for 20% of cases of infection in Quebec, according to screening data revealed Thursday, this mutation risks bringing us back to the equivalent of a “first wave”, where the majority of the population is found almost without immunity against the risk of infection, insisted Thursday Benoît Mâsse, epidemiologist at the School of Public Health of the University of Montreal, before Quebec announces new measures to slow down the pandemic.

“People need to realize that we end up almost like in December 2020, when no one was vaccinated, because Omicron can infect, even with two vaccines. If we have nothing to stop it, we will taste it. Our models already predicted 500 hospitalizations just with the Delta, ”he says.

The first data from the United Kingdom show a reduced protection to 30% or 40% against infection due to Omicron, for mRNA vaccines. In the field, data from Montreal show infections in people who have been doubly vaccinated in 90% of cases. “If 100,000 people can be infected, rather than 1000, that will necessarily be reflected in hospitals,” adds the epidemiologist.

The government’s decision to announce new restrictions comes on the same day as the publication of hospital projections from the National Institute of Excellence in Health and Social Services (INESSS). “The strong growth in the number of cases should translate into a marked increase in the number of daily hospitalizations over the coming weeks and consequently in the occupancy rate of regular and intensive care beds”, underlines INESSS, which is based on on a scenario developed using South African data. This is where the Omicron variant first appeared.

“According to this scenario, bed occupancy should reach level 1 defined by the MSSS within three weeks,” the report continues. In other words, all of the hospital beds planned for COVID-19 patients could be occupied as of the first week of January.

COVID-19 hits the government

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