Fearing COVID-19 variants, Quebec urges anyone with 'least of symptoms' to get tested

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MONTREAL — Quebec's health minister is urging people with the least of symptoms to get tested for COVID-19 as officials attempt to get ahead of new, more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus.

There are eight confirmed cases of the U.K. variant in Quebec but that doesn't mean it's not spreading more widely in the province, Health Minister Christian Dube told a Friday news conference.

"We still have 41 per cent of Quebecers who don't go automatically to get tested when they have symptoms," Dube said.

"With the arrival of these new variants, it's even more important to get tested even with the least of symptoms."

Quebec has yet to detect the Brazil and South African variants in the province.

Dube said officials are concerned but remain vigilant and want people to get tested quickly, particularly those with school-age children. In parallel with sequencing and lab analysis, authorities are focused on quickly screening, testing and tracing variant cases.

"The more we are able to detect our positive cases, the more we are able to trace them," Dube said. "This is how we can control the spread of the virus."

Quebec reported 1,101 COVID-19 infections Friday and 33 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including seven that occurred within the prior 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by 30, to 1,040, and 168 people were in intensive care, a drop of seven.

Dube said Quebec's vaccine campaign has slowed to a trickle due to lack of stock. He said the province has the necessary staffing and facilities but compared the situation to having a brand new car with no gasoline. On Thursday, Quebec administered 4,140 doses, for a total of 248,673.

Dube said there's frustration in not knowing specifics about what was negotiated by the federal government with various vaccine manufacturers.

"What we ask of the federal government now is to be transparent with what was negotiated because there is nothing worse than saying to Quebecers there will be 200,000 doses this week and they cannot substantiate that," Dube said. He said he is holding the federal government to its promise of delivering 1.3 million doses to Quebec by the end of March.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will have received the six million doses promised by Moderna and Pfizer by March 31 and that tens of millions more doses will follow.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press