MONTREAL — Quebec is getting ready to introduce the federal government's COVID-19 contact tracing application in the coming days as infections in the province remain on the rise.
Premier Francois Legault told reporters Tuesday in Quebec City the app will be deployed after officials concluded it would take too long to introduce the made-in-Quebec application they had hoped for.
Quebec reported 799 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, along with a spike in hospitalizations.
The province has had problems with contact tracing, with health officials in Montreal reporting difficulties tracking down people who were potentially exposed.
Health Minister Christian Dube said Quebec officials looked more closely at the smartphone application during a meeting with Ontario counterparts 10 days ago. While Ontario isn't fully satisfied, Dube said he hopes Quebecers will use it in large numbers.
The COVID Alert app notifies someone when they have been in close contact with a person who tests positive for the novel coronavirus and has shared their results.
"The big concern is how many people will accept," Dube said. "The more people that will be on this . . . then you have a chance to be notified."
He said the government will seek a consensus in support of the app from opposition parties, which had raised privacy concerns during legislature hearings in the summer. Legault didn't rule out switching to a Quebec-made application down the road.
The application is currently used in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Quebec rose by 35 Tuesday, for a total of 247, with 41 patients in intensive care. Health officials said two of the deaths reported Tuesday occurred in the past 24 hours while five occurred between Sept. 22 and Sept. 27.
Montreal and Quebec City, which have been moved into the highest pandemic alert level, reported the most new infections, followed by the Monteregie region, south of Montreal.
Quebec has reported 73,450 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 5,833 deaths attributed to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
Earlier Tuesday, Montreal's public health director Dr. Mylene Drouin urged 18-to-34-year-olds to get tested for COVID-19. She says people in that age group are testing positive at disproportionately high rates but they are less likely to get tested.
Legault made a similar plea to young Quebecers, who may be less at risk but could infect parents and grandparents.
"I want to tell you, you're part of the solution," Legault said, adding: "If we want to limit deaths, the solution is in your hands. Please apply public health rules and convince your friends to do so."
Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said he expects to have modelling shortly to have a better idea of how the second wave of COVID-19 will play out. In Ontario, models have suggested cases peaking in October.
But Arruda said decisions will be made based on daily data. "It's too dangerous to think that it's going to be over in October," he said, adding that success will come when the infections curve has flattened.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante also urged residents to abide by the 28-day lockdown orders imposed by the province, which as of Thursday will prohibit private indoor gatherings among people living at different addresses.
The Quebec government on Monday moved Montreal, Quebec City and the Chaudiere-Appalaches region up to the maximum COVID-19 alert level, announcing that bars, cinemas and other venues will have to close and restaurants will be limited to providing takeout. About five million people live in the affected regions.
Plante said it's important that people avoid indoor and outdoor gatherings. "What it's all about right now is no gatherings, no meetings whatsoever," she said. "In general, it's one address that stays together."
She said Montrealers need to rethink how they are planning their activities, including any Thanksgiving plans they may have.
"We need to be responsible," she said. "We need to share the message, it is not time for this. It's not an easy time, but until we get a vaccine, we're stuck with COVID-19, and we need to minimize the effect on our economy, our small business, our health, our elders, our children who need to go to school."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press