Quebec Premier Francois Legault is moving three cities, including the provincial capital, into lockdown effective Thursday following a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections.
Schools and non-essential businesses will close and the curfew will move ahead to 8 p.m. from 9:30 p.m. in Quebec City, Levis and Gatineau for at least 10 days, Legault told reporters in Quebec City Wednesday.
"We are very worried," the premier said, noting that the situation continues to deteriorate in the three cities. "Today and yesterday the cases are rising almost exponentially."
Health officials in the Quebec City area, for example, reported 111 new cases on Sunday, and within 48 hours that number jumped to 194.
Legault said his government expects that in the coming weeks, hospitalizations will rise rapidly in the three cities. "The situation is critical and we have to act quickly," he said.
The premier also announced that four regions are moving from the orange to the red pandemic alert level: Quebec City; Outaouais across the Ottawa River from Ontario; Chaudiere-Appalaches, south of the provincial capital; and Bas-St-Laurent, northeast of Quebec City.
Just last week, Legault said the province was "resisting" a third wave before changing his message Friday amid rising infections. Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, told reporters Wednesday, "The things I'm saying today can change tomorrow."
"There are wounds that we can treat with antibiotics," Arruda added. "But at a certain point we have to amputate. We are there now with cases rising very quickly in Quebec City."
The new restrictions do not affect the Montreal area, where theatres are open and able to welcome up to 250 people and the curfew remains at 9:30 p.m.
Quebec reported 1,025 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and nine more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including three in the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by two, to 485, and 120 people were in intensive care, a drop of six.
Earlier Wednesday, public health officials confirmed they had ordered a Quebec City gym to close after detecting 68 cases of COVID-19 that they say are linked to the facility.
Mathieu Boivin, a spokesman for the regional health authority in Quebec City, said officials inspected the Mega Fitness Gym on Tuesday and found "obvious gaps" in the measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including a lack of distancing between clients and insufficient personal protective equipment for staff.
Users of the gym are linked to at least eight other workplace outbreaks, he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021.
— By Jacob Serebrin in Montreal
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version referred to case numbers as being reported Tuesday. They were reported Wednesday.