MONTREAL — The leaders of Quebec's four main political parties came together on Tuesday to urge people to take public health rules seriously, as health authorities reported a single-day record of COVID-19 infections.
"We're already closing schools and businesses for the holidays, but we can't control what's going on in houses," Premier Francois Legault told reporters in Montreal, alongside the leaders of the Liberals, Quebec solidaire and Parti Quebecois.
"The next few weeks will be crucial — that's why we're united today to ask you to follow the rules."
Quebec reported a record 2,183 cases — the fourth consecutive day cases topped 2,000. The regions with the highest number of new infections were Montreal, with 896; Monteregie, south of Montreal, with 337; and the Capitale-Nationale region, which includes Quebec City, with 219.
The province reported 28 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, 10 of which occurred in the previous 24 hours. Quebec has a seven-day rolling average of 2,000 cases per day. Hospitalizations rose by seven, to 1,055, and the number of patients in intensive care went down by nine, to 137.
The province is short roughly 7,000 health-care workers who have taken sick leave, Legault said, adding that the health-care system is fragile.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said she and her colleagues chose to put differences aside and send a clear message to the population.
"It is really critical," she said, "we're entering a phase that'll be very difficult for all Quebecers and we believe as leaders of our respective parties that it is important for people to realize what's going on right now and that we follow those rules."
Quebec has ordered all businesses deemed "non-essential" to close Dec. 25 until at least Jan. 11; schools won't reopen before Jan. 11 and most indoor gatherings are prohibited.
Legault was peppered with questions from reporters about Quebecers who have chosen to travel despite government advisories warning against leaving the country. Legault said he wanted the federal government to ensure that the rules are respected — such as the requirement that travellers isolate for 14 days after they arrive on Canadian soil.
"We want to make sure that it's done properly, that we make sure we have people doing the follow-up," Legault said. "If some people don't have a place to stay for two weeks, we're also open to looking at the possibility of using some hotels, we have many of them available in Montreal."
The province's COVID-19 vaccination continues, with another 437 doses administered Monday. Health Minister Christian Dube tweeted that 18 of 21 new vaccination sites that opened this week have received doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Quebec had administered a total of 5,273 doses as of Monday and authorities said they expected 50,000 more doses this week and another 29,000 in two weeks time — enough to vaccinate about 42,000 Quebecers. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses to be fully effective.
"So it's very limited," Legault said about the number of people who can be inoculated against COVID-19 in the short term. "So over the next few weeks, things will remain critical."
Quebec has reported 181,276 COVID-19 cases and 7,794 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic; 154,673 people are reported to have recovered.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press