By Matthew McCully
Local Journalism Initiative
As of Friday, Dec. 31, private gatherings in homes will be banned in Quebec with the exception of people living alone and visits from caregivers, and the province will be under curfew from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m.
Restaurants will also close except for delivery and takeout.
Premier Francois Legault announced the new restrictions Thursday evening, along with the grim news that increasing hospitalizations due to COVID-19 run the very serious risk of surpassing the capacity of hospitals across Quebec in the coming weeks.
“We need to react quickly,” Legault said Thursday.
The situation is the worst it has been in the 22 months of the pandemic, Legault said, adding that the province was on track to top 16,000 new cases Thursday.
Indoor sports are suspended, and places of worship must close except for funerals, which will be limited to 25 people.
Legault said labour shortages, compounded by absences due to COVID-19 have put a strain on all sectors, not just essential services.
To alleviate the pressure, Legault announced that business across the province will be closed for the next three Sundays.
Legault said schools, including cegeps and universities, will remain closed until Monday, Jan. 17.
Noting that on previous occasions during the pandemic deadlines have not been respected, Legault said, “We will do everything we can to reopen schools,” adding they are a priority and will be the first institutions to reopen.
In the meantime, daycares will remain open, and daycares in schools will be also be available for those in need, prioritizing the children of essential workers.
Legault explained that in the span of one week the number of hospitalizations due to Covid across the province doubled, and the number of absences in the healthcare network more than doubled, justifying the decision to invite certain employees who tested positive for the virus back to work before completing quarantine. This will only be done where absolutely necessary, the premier explained, saying if a choice needs to be made between being treated by a worker with Covid wearing an N-95 mask, or not being treated at all, the answer is simple.
“We are in a storm, and it is at its worst right now,” Legault said, considering it unfathomable for Quebecers who are sick to not be able to receive the care they need.
For those unaware of the efficacy of vaccines, Legault reminded the population that non-vaccinated adults make up only 10 per cent of the population, but account for 50 per cent of hospitalizations.
Among the vaccinated, those with two doses, efficacy is 30 per cent with three doses, it is roughly 75 per cent. According to Legault, unvaccinated people are ten times more likely to face severe symptoms and end up in hospital.
The Last time the province imposed a curfew was in Jan. 9, 2021, and it remained in effect until May 28. Those caught in public after 10 p.m. without a valid reason face a fine ranging from $1,000 to $6,000.
On Thursday, Quebec reported 14,188 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24-hour period, bringing the total number of confirmed active cases in the province to 86,866.
To date, 586,607 people are known to have contracted the virus in the province since the start of the pandemic.
The positivity rate of tests continued to climb in the province, reaching 28 per cent on Dec. 28, or 7 out of every 25 tests.
The net increase in hospitalizations continued to climb, with total hospitalizations growing by 135 to 939. Hospitalizations stood at 473 on Dec. 22, so that number very nearly doubled in one week, growing by 98.5 per cent. Total hospitalizations have not surpassed 900 since Feb. 9, 2021.
The number of people in intensive care increased by 16 to 138. There were also 9 new deaths rec-orded, pushing the total to 11,711.
In the Eastern Townships, there are currently 3,988 confirmed active cases with 74 in hospital, 12 of whom were in intensive care.
The CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS sent out a statement Thursday saying hospital beds are 100 per cent occupied, including those dedicated to Covid patients, and over 800 employees are absent from local institutions due to the virus.
“As of today (Thursday), 826 people have been withdrawn from work after testing positive for COVID-19. These absences, combined with the epidemiological situation and the marked increase in hospitalizations related to COVID-19, leave the management team with no other choice than to continue using the means at our disposal, namely the continuation of the offloading of activities in various sectors and the application of the directive on the lifting of isolation to seven days for asymptomatic employees infected with COVID19,” explained Yann Belzile, Director of Human Resources, Communications and Legal Affairs.
Dr. Stéphane Tremblay, President and CEO of the CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS, called for solidarity with the population, employees and physicians. “The situation is more serious than ever, and we must once again pull together to get through it,” said Tremblay, praising the commitment and resilience of the health network community, which has been asked to do so much over the past two years.
“We are doing everything in our power to maintain quality and safe services in our care and housing environments. Our COVID-19 testing and vaccination activities are running at full capacity. The population will therefore have to accept that some delays will be longer. Patience, tolerance and civility are required in this demanding context for everyone,” Tremblay urged.