No chance of lifting red-zone restrictions early as cases rise, Legault says

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Quebec Premier François Legault has ruled out the possibility of lifting red-zone restrictions early, with two weeks remaining in the second 28-day partial lockdown.

Legault said Tuesday the spread of the virus is particularly concerning in certain regions, including Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Lanaudière, Mauricie-Centre-du-Québec and the Gaspésie.

"Our numbers show us that we must be even more careful," Legault said at a news conference.

"I'm announcing that we will keep the same restrictions for at least two more weeks."

Quebec reported more than 1,000 cases again Tuesday, along with 38 deaths.

Legault also said the progress on vaccines being developed by Pfizer and Medicago, based in Quebec City, is promising. But he cautioned that we "must remain very careful."

"It will take months before we can vaccinate a good part of the population," he said.

Legault said the red-zone restrictions, which are set to extend to the Eastern Townships on Thursday, are necessary to protect the health-care system and keep schools and workplaces open.

He said he's still hopeful Quebecers will be allowed to have small gatherings with family at Christmas and New Year's.

Why are cases still rising?

In an interview earlier this week, Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at the Montreal Jewish General, pointed out the increases in Quebec are part of a larger trend: cases are now rising in multiple provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.

"This is clearly a phenomenon that is wider spread," he told Daybreak.

Oughton said there's increasing evidence that schools are a driver of transmission, citing a study in the medical journal the Lancet.

The study, based on data from 131 countries, found that children's return to classrooms was followed by an average 24-per-cent rise in the Rt. The Rt represents the average number of people someone with COVID-19 infects.

He said requiring masks for all school children would likely help. He also said improved contact tracing and reducing the number of contacts people have may also be necessary to bring down the number of daily cases.

Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology, said if Quebec starts to see that the number of cases creeps up to 2,000 a day, then that means we are doing something wrong and "even stricter measures" will be necessary to make sure the hospital system doesn't become overwhelmed.

Filtration for winter

When asked about schools again Tuesday, Dr. Horacio Arruda refuted the idea that they are a primary driver of transmission.

He said the situation can vary from region to region and that workplaces and private gatherings also remain a source of spread.

The province, he said, is looking closely how air filtration systems could help in crowded spaces, including schools, in the winter months.