MONTREAL — A third wave of COVID-19 has hit Quebec but the government has no short-term plans to tighten health orders, Health Minister Christian Dube said Monday.
A rise in daily infections was expected because of the increased presence of more contagious novel coronavirus variants, Dube told reporters, adding that officials need to give a weary population a break from tough restrictions.
"We don't need to ask whether or not we're in a third wave," Dube said. "What we can do in a third wave is control it, to fight to keep these famous variants under control for as long as possible."
Less than a week ago, Premier Francois Legault said Quebec was "resisting" a third wave, only to change his message last Friday amid rising infections.
Quebec reported 891 new COVID-19 cases Monday and five more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two in the past 24 hours. The number of new infections was slightly lower compared with the past few days. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by three, to 477, and 120 people were in intensive care, a rise of six.
Instead of focusing on daily case counts, the government said it will closely monitor hospitalizations — particularly the number of patients in intensive case — to decide whether to reverse the decision to ease restrictions, including to allow high school students back in schools full time in the Montreal area on Monday.
On Friday, the government reopened gyms in "red" zones, such as Montreal, and permitted venues such as theatres and places of worship to welcome up to 250 people.
"There is an equilibrium between what we do for the clinical side of it, but also what we do for mental health," Dube said. "How to find this equilibrium? It's delicate and if we think at one point this is too risky, don't worry, we'll adjust, we have adjusted many times in the last year."
Heath experts have said variants should compose the majority of COVID-19 infections by the first week of April. Dr. Mylene Drouin, Montreal's public health director, said it's a matter of buying time for as long as possible.
"Every day we win against the variant is a day when thousands of people are vaccinated," she said Monday alongside Dube.
Meanwhile, Quebec on Monday said it was following the lead of the Public Health Agency of Canada and other provincial health authorities in suspending injections of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to those under the age of 55.
The province's Health Department said in a statement that "very rare cases" of blood clots have occurred in people "weeks after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine in some European countries, the majority in women under 55 years old."
"However, it is not possible to determine at this stage whether the events are related to the person's gender."
Provincial authorities said 111,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine known as Covishield have been administered in Quebec. No cases of thrombosis linked to vaccinations have been reported in Canada.
The province administered 38,801 doses of COVID-19 vaccine Sunday, for a total of 1,261,855, about 14.9 per cent of the population. In Montreal, about one out of five residents has received a first dose.
Quebec has reported a total of 309,202 COVID-19 infections and 10,651 deaths linked to the virus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press