MONTREAL — Premier François Legault tried to reassure Quebecers on Friday that despite the fact health officials reported more than 1,000 new daily cases for the first time since May, hospitalizations remained stable because of the province's strong vaccination coverage.
Health officials reported 1,037 new COVID-19 cases on Friday but no new deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by four compared with the prior day, to 206, after 13 patients entered hospital and 17 were discharged. The number of people in intensive care dropped by two, to 43.
"We must remain prudent: Yes, we have (more than) 1,000 cases, but we have 200 hospitalizations, which is four or five times less than many countries in Europe and the United States," Legault told reporters in Montreal.
"Our hospitalizations, thanks to vaccination, remain relatively low, but it will be important to continue with the vaccination," he said, referring to children aged five to 11.
In early November, authorities had said they expected cases to rise as measures were relaxed but had not expected hospitalizations to rise dramatically.
Legault said his biggest worry came from news of a new novel coronavirus variant of concern, named "Omicron" by a World Health Organization panel. The variant originated in South Africa and has led to a rapid rise in cases in the southern part of the African continent.
Amid calls from Legault and other premiers to shut the borders to South African travellers, the federal government on Friday announced a travel ban on foreign nationals who had travelled from or transited through seven southern African countries in the past two weeks. There are no direct flights from the region to Canada.
"We are monitoring the situation closely with our experts (at the Health Department)," Health Minister Christian Dubé tweeted Friday. "This shows us that the pandemic is not over."
Legault said Friday he was not willing to make any promises about his government's future health orders around Christmas gatherings. He said authorities will wait a week or two to reflect before proposing a plan. While the province has relaxed certain measures in recent weeks, gatherings at home remain limited to 10 people from three households.
"I hope with all my heart that we'll be able to have a Christmas that's a bit more normal," he said.
Quebec has 7,324 active reported cases of COVID-19. Authorities said 19,266 doses of vaccine were administered on Thursday. The province's public health institute said more than 88 per cent of the population aged 12 and older was adequately vaccinated against COVID-19.
As of Friday morning, 172,600 vaccination appointments had been made for Quebec children aged five to 11, who were eligible to receive their first doses as of Wednesday. So far, 15,599 youngsters have received a first dose.
In Granby, Que., about 80 kilometres east of Montreal, local police were investigating after seven elementary schools in the area had anti-vaccine graffiti painted on their windows. Const. Marc Farand said police believed a single person could be behind the messages, which he said were written in similar handwriting and included messages such as "why vaccinate them?"
"The schools cleaned the messages and photos were taken for our investigation," Farand said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press