Quebec health minister calls for caution as hospitalizations continue to decline

·3 min read

Quebec's health minister said Saturday that the province must remain vigilant about COVID-19, despite a continued downward trend in hospitalizations and intensive-care patients linked to the virus.

His comments came as the province reported 1,049 new COVID-19 cases and 33 virus-related deaths, days after easing widespread restrictions in response to an improved outlook.

Hospitalizations declined by 37 to 812 in the past 24 hours. Of those patients, the province said 130 were in intensive care.

"This is encouraging, but we have to stay cautious, especially with the arrival of new variants," Quebec health minister Christian Dube said on Twitter. "We must continue our efforts."

The latest numbers came almost a week after Quebec allowed non-essential businesses to re-open and extended the curfew in so-called "orange zones" to 9:30 p.m.

Despite the improved situation, Dube warned on Friday that premier Francois Legault is considering imposing more restrictions ahead of Quebec's spring break week, which begins March 1.

Quebec has also announced plans to ramp up screening of positive cases in Montreal for variants of the virus beginning next week. Two of three variants that are particularly concerning to health officials have been detected in the province so far.

Some infectious disease experts have sounded the alarm over a potential third wave of the virus, driven by more contagious variants that have emerged abroad.

To prevent these variants from spreading domestically, Canada has announced plans to implement stricter border measures, including mandatory hotel quarantines for people entering the country by air. The hotel quarantine requirement will go into effect on Feb. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Travellers entering Canada by land will also have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, a requirement that has been in place for air travellers since early January.

Quebec said on Saturday that five of the province's most recent fatalities came in the past 24 hours, with 21 occurring between Feb. 6 and Feb. 11 and seven taking place before Feb. 6.

The province also said it administered 8,675 doses of vaccine on Friday, for a total of 290,953. Quebec has received slightly more than 310,000 doses since the first vaccine was approved in Canada in December.

Provincial officials have yet to provide guidance on when Quebec residents who have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to schedule an appointment for their necessary second shot.

Pfizer and Moderna, which developed the two vaccines currently approved for use in Canada, recommended that the second dose of the vaccine be administered after 21 and 28 days respectively after the initial inoculation. But Quebec has chosen to provide first doses to as many people as possible rather than allocating the shots to people who have already been vaccinated.

Slightly more than 60 days have passed since the province began administering its first vaccines on Dec. 14. Quebec said in January that it would require people to wait up to 90 days before receiving their second shot.

The total number of COVID-19 deaths in the province stands at 10,201, with five deaths being withdrawn after an investigation showed they were not caused by the virus.

A total of 275,880 people have contracted the virus in Quebec since the onset of the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2021.

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press