Quebec reports record 3,768 new COVID-19 cases as population copes with new rules

·4 min read

MONTREAL — As Quebec reported a record number of COVID-19 infections Friday, one expert called for more transparency from the government so people understand why their efforts are needed to stem the pandemic's latest wave.

“The messaging is critical, but what’s in the message?” asked Kim Lavoie, a professor and chair of behavioural medicine at the Université du Québec à Montréal. “Quebecers deserve to have better access to the information on which they’re making these decisions.”

The Health Department reported 3,768 new COVID-19 cases Friday, eclipsing the previous high set in January, when officials reported 3,127 cases. There were seven more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus and 312 people were in hospital with the disease, including 62 in intensive care.

The record came one day after Premier François Legault said vaccination isn't enough to protect the health-care system from becoming overwhelmed with patients, due to the threat of the Omicron variant, which officials believe now accounts for around 20 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in the province.

The province's public health institute said Friday it has confirmed just 13 cases of the Omicron variant in the province, but it reported another 309 suspected cases — 180 more than the day before.

Legault on Thursday announced a series of new restrictions to slow the spread of Omicron, including the requirement that all retail stores, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues operate at 50 per cent capacity starting Monday. Karaoke, dancing and holiday parties will be forbidden.

Lavoie said delaying the measures until next week while describing the situation as critical sends a mixed message. “Everyone is going to say ‘I can do it because the government says I can,’ and that’s the wrong attitude,” she said. “It’s not OK just because the government says you can.”

Some Montrealers expressed frustration Friday but most said they understood why Legault had introduced new restrictions.

"The sooner we get out of it the better," Jean-Patrice Piquette said as he ate a bagel on Mont-Royal Avenue. "I don't think it's that tragic — no dancing in the bars, 50 per cent (capacity) in the bars. The bars are not even full anyway. Maybe the restaurants, that's a bit touchy, but I think they've got to do what they have to do. I think it's a good thing."

Piquette said the 10-person cap for private gatherings doesn't affect him because he wasn't planning a large holiday celebration. But he's a barber and he hopes any further restrictions won't force him to close his business.

Louise Lavoie, a recently retired educator, said the pandemic has been isolating but she can live with the new rules. Like Piquette, she was not planning a big gathering, even before Legault announced the limit would stay at 10 people.

"We are not going to have big family parties," she said as she strolled in the Plateau neighbourhood with her daughter and baby granddaughter. "We are going to respect the conditions required by the government."

But Carl Desroches, a construction supervisor, said he thinks the situation in Quebec has become ridiculous, describing the 10-person limit on private gatherings as "suffocating."

Desroches said he's worried some of his older family members might not be around a year from now, and he wants to celebrate with them before it's too late. "I’m not changing my plans," he said as he waited for a sandwich at a Mont-Royal Avenue restaurant. "The plans are already made. They announced this ... eight days before Christmas. We’re not going to scrap our plans."

Kim Lavoie, who is currently studying adherence to COVID-19 measures, said the data shows that Quebecers have so far been disciplined and united during the pandemic.

As for coping with the latest wave, Lavoie said Quebecers need to remind themselves they've been in the situation before and focus on how things are better this time because there are fewer hospitalizations and most of the population is vaccinated. For the government, it's a reminder that slow and steady works better than revolving restrictions.

“Human beings don’t cope well with sudden abrupt changes because we require time to prepare and to adapt, and sudden unpredictable changes are horrible for anxiety, insomnia, because it makes us feel like we’re not in control," she said.

“I think the government wants to do us favours, but we don’t need favours. We need leadership, and that means putting on your big boy pants and calling it like it is.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Sidhartha Banerjee and Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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