Quebec sets new record for COVID-19 cases amid pockets of resistance to safety measures
Several hundred people gather in Montreal Sunday to protest against the latest round of safety measures
On the same day that Quebec posted its highest ever increase in COVID-19 infections, hundreds gathered in Montreal to protest public health rules, a sign that many in the province remain unconvinced by official warnings about the worsening crisis.
Quebec recorded 2,146 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, the second straight day it has surpassed the 2,000-mark.
Equally alarming for the government is that hospitalizations have also continued to rise — they hit 1,011 on Friday — forcing the cancellation of non-emergency procedures and a scramble to find more bed space.
"There is a lot of pressure on the health-care system and on our personnel. We have to reduce our contacts if we want to reverse this trend," Health Minister Christian Dubé said in tweet on Sunday.
In an attempt to prevent the health-care system from buckling under the pressure, the government announced last week it was further tightening restrictions.
The new measures include forcing more office employees to work from home and imposing a two-week shutdown of non-essential stores following Christmas.
Pockets of resistance
But despite the precarious state of the health-care system, there are still vocal pockets of resistance to the restrictions.
Sunday's demonstration attracted several hundred people — some estimated as many as 2,000 — who marched along Sherbrooke Street, and then held a rally in La Fontaine Park. It was among the largest demonstrations against safety measures in recent months.
Many in the crowd held signs indicating support for conspiracy theories and questioned the severity of the disease that has killed more than 7,700 people in Quebec, and at least 1.7 million people worldwide.
"Demonstrations like this, I think, show how much work we still have to do to convince people overall these measures are important and geared at protecting the health of the public," said Dr. Matthew Oughton, a physician with the Jewish General Hospital's infectious diseases division.
Police clamping down
Law enforcement officials have, in recent days, signaled they will be less tolerant with those who are intent on flouting public health rules.
At Sunday's demonstration in Montreal, police handed out fines and had handcuffed a handful of other demonstrators.
While protests are permitted under current public health rules, participants must wear a mask and stay two metres apart at all times. Those rules were largely disregarded Sunday despite a heavy police presence that included officers in riot gear.
Montreal police say they handed out 269 tickets to people who weren't wearing masks. With fees, the fines amounted to $1,546 each.
In Quebec City, police made use of a telewarrant on Sunday morning to break up an illegal house party and fine several partygoers.
Under special powers granted to police because of the pandemic, they can call a judge to get permission to enter a private residence. Telewarrants have been little used until now.
Quebec City police said they had to add patrol vehicles this weekend to respond to an increase in calls about suspected violations of public health rules.
Last week, Dubé said he was worried that Quebecers were not taking the ban on private gatherings seriously heading into the holiday season. His fears, he said, were motivated by unusually large orders at liquor commission outlets.
"That's not a good sign," he said.
With files from Josh Grant