Health minister says COVID data looking good as Quebec adds 402 new cases, six deaths

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MONTREAL — Quebec's health minister said Monday the province's COVID-19 indicators were headed in the right direction, but he warned Quebecers to remain cautious as the months get colder and people spend more time indoors.

Health officials reported 402 new COVID-19 cases and six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

"I find that it's going well, but you know me, I want to stay prudent," Christian Dubé told a news conference in Chateauguay, Que., south of Montreal. He announced a pilot project that would allow paramedics to work in hospitals to help reduce staff shortages.

"I saw the numbers over the weekend, it's the first time we're back in the 400 case range and today, we're going to have good numbers again for a Monday," he said. "We're starting to see the benefits of everything that was done in terms of vaccination and health measures."

Dubé noted while the province made it through September in good shape, colder October weather will drive people indoors and change the situation.

Authorities said COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by two, to 290, after 22 people entered hospital in the past 24 hours and 24 patients were discharged. There were 88 people in intensive care, unchanged since Sunday.

The Health Department reported that another 6,026 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered, for a total of 12,947,692. Quebec's public health institute said 89.6 per cent of Quebecers aged 12 and up have received a first dose of vaccine and 85.9 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the government said Monday it was expanding its rapid testing program for elementary schools so that all primary schools across the province would have access to those tests by next week.

Also Monday, an association representing Quebec bar owners said its members wanted the government to relax capacity restrictions affecting the industry, days after restrictions were lifted for the cultural sector.

Health officials announced last week that starting Oct. 8, capacity restrictions would be lifted for venues with assigned seating, including cinemas, theatres, conferences and graduation ceremonies. The new rules will allow Montreal's Bell Centre to be at full capacity for the Canadiens' first NHL home game in October.

The Nouvelle Association des Bars du Québec, which says it counts about 200 members, said they also wanted full capacity and last call pushed back to 3 a.m. Bars are currently allowed to sell alcohol until 1 a.m. and must close by 2 a.m., an hour earlier than normal.

"Today, we are asking the Quebec government and particularly the public health department to be consistent … if we can tolerate 22,000 people side by side in an amphitheatre like the Bell Center in Montreal, and this, more or less 10 cm apart between each of the 22,000 seats, we can now tolerate seeing dining rooms and bars accommodating the permitted capacity of their establishments under the same conditions," association president Pierre Thibault said in a statement.

Dubé said he understood the concerns of bar owners, but he said he wanted to reopen the economy gradually and not lose the gains made since the vaccination campaign began.

"I understand clearly that restaurant owners and bar owners want to lift those limitations, but we need to get through this month of October," Dubé said. "We're committed and public health is committed that (if) the next weeks provide some stabilization, we will have some adjustments to our measures."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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