MONTREAL — Quebec ended 2020 and ushered in the new year by logging more than 7,600 new COVID-19 cases over a three-day period, a tally that one infectious disease expert decried as "abysmal."
The province, which had not reported new cases or deaths linked to the novel coronavirus since Dec. 31, recorded 7,663 cases in total from that date until Jan. 2. Data released Sunday showed 2,869 of the new cases were recorded on Saturday, 1,986 on New Year's Day and 2,808 on Thursday.
"There's no denying – those numbers are abysmal," Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, said in an interview.
"But it's the continued increase in the hospitalizations, in the ICU admissions, that remains profoundly concerning."
Health officials said 1,225 people were hospitalized across the province on Saturday, an increase of 150 compared to the previous day. Of those in hospital, 179 people were in intensive care.
"The surge capacity of our health-care system is busting at the seams," said Vinh, adding that hospitals could run out of beds, personnel and equipment – and be forced to ration care – if the upward trend continues.
Quebec's health minister also sounded the alarm Sunday about the toll soaring infection and hospitalization rates are taking on the health-care system.
Christian Dube tweeted that rates have continued to mount despite COVID-19 restrictions imposed over the holiday period, adding the numbers illustrate the prevalence of community transmission.
"It has a major impact on our health-care network and our personnel," he wrote in a tweet.
Quebec ordered the closure of businesses deemed non-essential across the province from Dec. 25 until at least Jan. 11 in an effort to stem the spread of the virus and reduce the pressure on hospitals.
Authorities also reported 121 additional deaths linked to the virus over the three-day period since Thursday, 11 of which occurred in the past 24 hours.
The province has now recorded 210,304 total cases since the pandemic began, 179,456 of which are considered recovered, as well as 8,347 deaths.
Meanwhile, officials said Quebec has administered 28,762 COVID-19 vaccines since the inoculations began in mid-December, including 798 doses Saturday.
Vinh said the vaccine rollout has been efficient, but noted the number of people receiving shots has not yet surpassed that of new daily COVID-19 cases.
If Quebec can get its infection rate down while it administers the vaccine, it will put the odds in its favour to get the pandemic under control, he said. "But right now, things don't look good."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2021.
Jillian Kestler-D'Amours, The Canadian Press