‘There’s still time’: Quebec health minister makes vaccination plea as COVID-19 cases soar

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Quebec reported 1,747 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and seven more virus-related deaths as health authorities provided an update on the epidemiological situation in the province.

Pandemic-related hospitalizations jumped by 25 in the last day to 293 with 47 new patients admitted, while 22 were discharged. Of those in hospital, 75 are in intensive care, an increase of two.

The latest data published by Quebec’s public health institute shows people who are unvaccinated are 14.7 times more at risk of being hospitalized after contracting the virus than people who are adequately vaccinated.

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Health Minister Christian Dubé admitted the increase in cases and hospitalization is cause for concern and urged those who are unvaccinated to reconsider their choice.

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In the last 28 days, Dubé said there have been more than 30,000 new cases. Of those infected, 550 went to hospital, 150 of which were in intensive care.

He said more than two-thirds of those ending up in hospital are people who aren’t vaccinated, even if they only now represent 10 per cent of the eligible population.


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“There’s still time,” he said of the opportunity to get vaccinated and avoid serious illness.

He stressed how the health-care system remains fragile with a backlog of surgeries, staff shortages and 30 per cent of beds reserved for COVID patients already occupied, and reminded people of the need to remain prudent.

“The (fewer) contacts you have, especially as the holidays approach, the less risk you have,” Dubé said. “If you gather, please do it among people who are vaccinated. And if you have symptoms get tested and isolate yourself.”

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Dubé said that despite the high level of community transmission in Quebec, the government would maintain its decision to ease restrictions and permit up to 20 people to gather indoors starting Dec. 23, up from a limit of 10 people.

“We are not afraid to change our minds if we think we are not going in the right direction,” Dubé said. “You have to stay ahead of the game.”

Quebec’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda appealed to the common sense of Quebecers. In his own case, he said he reduced the size of his holiday gathering to seven people from 15. “You have to manage your own risk,” Arruda said. “I’m appealing to the intelligence of Quebecers and if they have concerns and they’re worried, they should reduce their contacts.”

Omicron variant concerns

Dubé said it was now more important than ever to exercise caution as the Omicron variant is making inroads in the country, especially Ontario.

He said that while the number of cases linked to the variant appears limited in Quebec, experts warn it might be underestimated.

“The Omicron variant is much more transmissible than the Delta, it travels faster and strikes more often,” he said. “Our experts estimate it is two to three times more contagious.”

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Dubé, however, said there is no consensus yet on how severe an illness it produces.


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But modelling predictions he said show an increase in cases is to be expected, as is a jump in hospitalizations, especially after the holidays.

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“When we get to know Omicron better, we’ll be better able to predict its impact on hospitalizations but in the interim, I want to stay ahead of the parade,” he said.

That’s why the province is asking employers to reinstate remote working immediately and is making masks mandatory in common areas of private seniors residences.

Rapid test kits for general population


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Quebec health minister says province looking to distribute COVID-19 rapid tests to general population


Quebec health minister says province looking to distribute COVID-19 rapid tests to general population

The province is also counting on being able to distribute five free rapid tests to every person in Quebec every 30 days for three months, starting on Monday.

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Daniel Paré, who heads the province’s immunization task force, said so far more than 6 million rapid tests have been distributed, or are being distributed for use at home on children, through daycares and elementary schools.

For the general population, pharmacies will be acting as distribution centres.

Paré, however, warned that the availability of tests will depend on shipments from the federal government.

Quebec will also dip into its own stores to make rapid tests available to long-term care homes and seniors residences for people who are symptomatic.

“Of course the tests have to be used correctly,” Pare said. “We know that you have to be symptomatic to use them, that’s where the tests are most reactive and give us a better predictability as to if people have COVID-19.”

In the event of a positive result, people are urged to get a test at a screening centre for more accurate results.

Vaccination

On the one-year anniversary of the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine being administered in Canada at a long-term care home in Quebec, 83,4 per cent of the province’s population has received at least one shot.

The province is currently in a race to get a first dose of vaccine into kids between the ages of five and 11 before the holidays, as well as third dose booster shots to health-care providers, people whose immunity might be decreasing, and to those who have health conditions that put them more at risk.

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To date, 282,153 kids in the targeted age group have gotten their first shot and 48,891 others have booked an appointment.


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Currently, people aged 70 and over are eligible for a booster in Quebec, as well as people having received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, those living in remote or isolated communities, pregnant women and those with health issues.

Starting in January, booster shots will be open for people aged 60 and over as well.

Paré said the province hopes to accelerate its rollout of booster shots but needs more people to administer vaccines.

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He appealed to retirees and others from outside the health network who are qualified to lend a hand if possible.

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“The more we’ll have people from outside, the more we’ll be able to maintain our services, most notably within hospitals,” Paré said.


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The current capacity is 300,000 shots a week. The aim is to double that in January.

To reach that goal, Paré estimates about 500 additional people are needed.

Paré added anyone who is interested can sign up via the Je contribue or I contribute portal.

To date, Quebec has recorded 469,356 infections and 443,121 recoveries, bringing the number of active cases to 14,617.

The death toll attributable to the virus now stands at 11,618.

— With files from The Canadian Press’ Sidhartha Banerjee




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