Premier says Quebec 'resisting' COVID-19 third wave, one million Quebecers vaccinated

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Premier says Quebec 'resisting' COVID-19 third wave, one million Quebecers vaccinated

MONTREAL — Quebec is "resisting" a COVID-19 third wave, Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday, as health officials confirmed the number of vaccinations administered in the province surpassed the one-million mark.

But the premier said Quebec isn't immune from a third wave and he put two regions on notice over rising cases.

He said the rise in cases linked to mutations more contagious than the dominant strain of the novel coronavirus is threatening to send cases spiking. "We’re resisting against the variants and the third wave, but the battle is not over," Legault told a new conference in Quebec City.

Legault had a special warning for the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and Outaouais regions, where infections have risen in recent days. Residents in those regions need to reduce their contacts if they want to avoid a return from the "orange" to the more restrictive "red" pandemic-alert level, he said.

Almost 30 per cent of confirmed cases in the province are linked to variants, Legault said. The most common mutation in Quebec is the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's director of public health, said cases in Quebec are currently on a "plateau" rather than on a steady increase. He added that the province was controlling the U.K. variant but warned that an eventual rise in cases was nearly inevitable.

"Independently of anything we can do, it’s not true the variant won’t go up, and since it’s more transmissible, we’ll have more cases," he said.

"What's important is not having hospitalizations and deaths, and that’s why we’re taking a very aggressive approach," Arruda said, adding that anyone with symptoms should get tested immediately.

Quebec reported 656 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and four more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one that occurred in the past 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations rose by six, to 519, and 113 people were in intensive care, a drop of one.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations have risen by 18 over the past two reporting periods.

Legault eased two health orders Tuesday. Next week, high school students in red zones will return to in-person learning full time. The premier also said private seniors residences can reopen their dining rooms after a minimum of 75 per cent of residents in each facility have been vaccinated at least three weeks prior.

Legault and Arruda both acknowledged that allowing a full-time return to class represented a risk, but one that was worth taking given concerns over students' mental health.

Arruda said many students struggle with online learning and risk academic failure if they can't go back to school. He said the province believes it can contain outbreaks when they occur. "I think the benefit is going to be better than the side-effects," he said.

The province vaccinated 26,040 people Monday and the Health Department confirmed the 1,000,000-dose threshold was crossed Tuesday afternoon. Legault urged everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, adding that he will be getting his shot in Montreal on Friday.

Arruda said Quebec was adjusting its vaccine policy in response to new research that suggests people who have already contracted COVID-19 only need one shot of vaccine to be protected. He said immunization experts believe a single dose of vaccine, when given three months after recovery from the disease, provides the same amount of immunity as two doses.

A second dose, Arruda explained, is not recommended for people who have had COVID-19 because "it doesn't give more immunity, and it brings more significant adverse effects," such as flu-like symptoms.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press