COVID-19: Quebec adds record 9,397 cases; Montreal reports one in five tests positive

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MONTREAL — Quebec reported a record 9,397 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as Montreal public health officials said contact tracers could no longer keep up with the surging number of daily infections.

Ninety per cent of new COVID-19 cases in Montreal involve the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, and one in five residents in the city getting tested is positive, Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin told a news conference.

Drouin said there were more than 3,600 cases identified in the city on Wednesday, adding that the number is likely an underestimation given that testing centres are overwhelmed and results of take-home rapid tests aren't recorded. About sixty per cent of new infections in Montreal involve people between the ages of 18 and 44, she added.

"The message is we are having an intense community transmission in Montreal," Drouin said. "It's exponential — it's touching young adults."

"Everyone has someone in their entourage who is infected with COVID right now so we all have to be really vigilant to protect the vulnerable."

Quebec's Health Department on Thursday also reported six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by 28, to 473, and 91 people were in intensive care, a rise of three.

While the Quebec government maintained holiday gatherings at a maximum of 10 people, it will limit private gatherings to a maximum of six people or to two-family bubbles as of Boxing Day. Restaurants, which are already operating at half capacity, will also have to limit groups at tables to six people or two families.

In Montreal, 181 people are hospitalized with the disease, a rise of 60 per cent since last week. Officials said they are postponing some non-essential services and reorganizing personnel to increase the number of COVID-19-dedicated beds to 550.

In Quebec City and in the Chaudière-Appalaches region, south of the provincial capital, health officials on Thursday urged people to reduce their contacts. The region boasts the highest number of active cases in the province, with 700 infections per 100,000 people.

"We have a vaccination rate that's weaker when compared with the rest of Quebec, and it's weaker in certain regions," Dr. Liliana Romero, public health director for Chaudière-Appalaches, told reporters. "We have more contacts, it's all big families here and we have a lot of manufacturing here, so it's not possible to work from home."

Drouin said Montreal public health officials are no longer capable of contact tracing all the new cases reported every day because the numbers are overwhelming. She asked people who receive a positive test result — whether at a testing centre or through a take-home rapid test kit — to isolate for ten days and to call the people with which they had recently come into contact.

"What we're asking is you call your close contacts and ask them to isolate themselves for 10 days," Drouin said, adding that rapid test results are reliable.

Dr. Marie-France Raynault, a public health doctor with the Health Department, told a technical briefing with reporters on Thursday that what's most important is for people who test positive with a rapid test to isolate.

"In the context of high community transmission like in Montreal, the probability that a rapid positive test is really positive is very high," Raynault said. "The probability of having a false positive is therefore lower, but it's not zero."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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