Quebec premier François Legault warns tough weeks ahead as COVID-19 cases mount

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MONTREAL — Quebec Premier François Legault on Friday warned of tough weeks to come, as officials reported more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases, a new daily record.

"The Omicron variant is more contagious than anything seen since the start of the pandemic," Legault wrote in a Christmas message posted to Facebook. "I count on your judgment to respect the instructions and to be careful."

Legault called on Quebecers to reach out to those alone during the holidays or who are isolating because of a positive COVID-19 test result, and he acknowledged the courage and dedication of health workers.

"The next few weeks are going to be difficult," Legault wrote. "It will be very important to continue our efforts and to stick together, even if we are tired."

Quebec tightened restrictions this week, cutting private gatherings to six people or to two family bubbles, beginning on Boxing Day. Bars, movie theatres, gyms and entertainment venues were abruptly ordered to close earlier this week, while restaurants were permitted to stay open at 50 per cent capacity with a strict 10 p.m. closing time.

On Friday, Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon extended pandemic aid to restaurants.

“The repercussions of the new (health) measures on restaurants will be significant," Fitzgibbon said in a statement. "We had discussions with their representatives, and it was clear that we had to adjust our programs or deal with several closures."

Quebec has also tightened rules at long-term care homes and at seniors residences. Residents of long-term care homes will not be permitted to leave for private holiday gatherings and will only be allowed one visitor at a time, for a maximum of two visitors per day. Outings are still permitted at seniors residences, but residents will only be allowed a maximum of four visitors a day for the holiday period.

According to the province's open data portal, slightly more than 10,000 new cases were added on Friday, eclipsing the previous record of 9,397 new cases reported one day earlier. Details on COVID-19-related hospitalizations and on vaccinations will be released next week.

Officials have said in recent days the daily numbers are likely an underestimation because the province's testing centres are overwhelmed and can't keep up with demand.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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