By Gordon Lambie
Quebec reported its first confirmed case of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus on Monday afternoon. Health Minister Christian Dubé confirmed a single case had been detected but said that 115 other travellers are being monitored in case they also develop symptoms.
Dubé used the announcement to encourage the population to be careful and remember the health restrictions still in place. He also emphasized the fact that there is limited data on Omicron at this point and said that a more careful study of the variant will be carried out over the next two weeks to determine the best course of action.
“It is not yet confirmed that the virus is more vaccine resistant,” the health minister said, pointing to this and also information about how transmissible it is as things that need to be better known before the province makes any ‘big decisions.’
“While our experts are doing their analyses, we are asking for Quebecers who are travelling internationally to be careful,” Dubé said, sharing that despite the focus on Southern African countries in initial reports, he does not believe that there is any country now that could not have a case. “If you don’t need to travel, then I wouldn’t right now,” he said.
The health minister repeated the fact that the majority of those who are contracting the virus in Quebec are unvaccinated, although he added with some hope that 54 per cent of the new cases in the last week have been in children aged 5-11. This is significant because one third of the children in that age group now either have an appointment for a first dose or have received theirs already, with the campaign progressing at a rate of about 20,000 children per day.
Given the uncertainty of the situation Dubé said that it remains important to follow the public health guidelines.
“I know that you are tired of hearing this,” he said. “We want to think of this pandemic as being behind us, but it is not.”
Dubé and Provincial Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda made a point of highlighting the limit of 10 people for private indoor gatherings, sharing that a lot of new cases are coming from these sorts of environments. Arruda acknowledged that the limit might seem strange when thousands of people are allowed to gather indoors at sporting venues and concert halls, but he argued that the types of contacts one has at the Bell Centre are not as close or lasting as those which are taking place at home.
Asked about whether the increase in cases and the arrival of the new variant might have an impact on holiday plans, the public health director discouraged people from making elaborate plans before the report on the Omicron variant is released on Dec. 6.
The province of Quebec reported 756 new cases on Monday, bringing the total number of people infected to 447,387 with 7,846 active cases.
There were two new deaths recorded, for a total of 11,576 since the start of the pandemic.
The number of hospitalizations increased by 10, to 226 with 45 in intensive care.
There were 425 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the Eastern Townships over the weekend, increasing the total number of active cases in the region 1,163, on a par with the highest number of active cases ever reached at one time in the region.
Out of the active case numbers, 389 were in Sherbrooke, 196 were in Des Sources, 164 were in Memphremagog, 122 were in Granit, 86 were in the Haute-Yamaska, 72 were in Coaticook, 57 were in the Val Saint-François, 49 were in the Haut-Saint-François, and 18 were in the Pommeraie. Looked at in relation to their population sizes, the rate of infection was highest in Des Sources, Granit, Coaticook, and Memphremagog.
The number of deaths linked to Covid in the region has now increased to 384.
There were 12 people hospitalized due to the virus in the region in Monday’s report, four of whom were in intensive care.
An ongoing outbreak at North Hatley Elementary School led the Eastern Townships School Board to close that school from Monday until at least Wednesday of this week. According to Emmanuelle Gaudet, Director of Complementary Services at the ETSB, several other schools across the territory have begun to apply new control measures, such as the reintroduction of class bubbles, “based on their reality and current COVID situation, and whether or not the school is located in a territory that is particularly affected.”