Montreal

Quebec announces first death from COVID-19, confirmed cases up to 94

A first person in Quebec has died from the novel coronavirus, and the number of confirmed cases continues to jump, but authorities urged Quebecers not to despair. "The health care network is ready," said Premier François Legault. 

But authorities plead with Quebecers not to despair — don't give up, Arruda says

'The health-care network is ready,' Premier François Legault said Wednesday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
  • Premier François Legault announced the first death in Quebec from COVID-19: an elderly person in the Lanaudière region. 
  • There are 94 confirmed cases in Quebec, up from 50 on Monday. Four people are in intensive care.
  • Call 1-877-644-4545 if you think you have COVID-19 symptoms instead of 811.
  • Quebec's director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, is asking Quebecers not to wear masks. He said it does not prevent the spread of COVID-19, and masks should be reserved for health care workers.
  • Someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 took a shuttle from the airport to an airport parking lot on March 8.
  • Canada and the United States will close the border to non-essential travel while allowing some commercial traffic to continue.
  • Air Transat and Porter are suspending flights.

A first person in Quebec has died from the novel coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to jump, but authorities urged Quebecers not to despair, saying the health care network is ready.

The person who died was an elderly woman living in a seniors' residence in the Lanaudière region. She had been in contact with someone who had travelled, said Quebec's director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda.

Public health officials have launched an investigation to trace everyone who had been in contact her, and the residence where she had been living has been notified.

Even though the woman did not contract the disease abroad, Arruda said her case alone doesn't indicate the onset of community transmission of the disease — a critical marker for public health officials tracking its evolution.

"We're not there yet," Arruda said, specifying that community transmission requires the disease to be spreading at three degrees of separation (known as generations) from someone who caught it abroad. 

In all, nine people have died in Canada from COVID-19: seven in British Columbia and one in Ontario. In Italy, considered the hardest-hit area after China, the disease is responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths.  

Along with the death, Quebec authorities also announced that the number of confirmed cases in the province has risen to 94. Of those, six people are in hospital — four of them in intensive care. 

The Quebec government is now asking people not to wear masks for prevention purposes, as it could cause a shortage. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Arruda called on Quebecers not to be dismayed by the numbers.

"Just because the numbers are increasing doesn't mean it's time to give up," he said Wednesday at the government's daily news conference in Quebec City. 

He said it's still too early to determine the impact of government-imposed social-distancing measures — such closing schools and bars. It will take another week before a fair assessment is possible. 

The effectiveness of those measures will also depend on how many people take seriously the directives that are more difficult to enforce, he said, such as advising people over 70 to stay at home and encouraging everyone in the province to avoid social gatherings.

"If there are more cases tomorrow than today, that doesn't mean we're losing the battle," Arruda said. "The measures we put in place are very demanding. We know. But they are still necessary."

Arruda said, if anything, people should be increasing their safety precautions, such as not using cash and ordering online whenever possible.

Legault thanks social media influencers

Also speaking at Wednesday's news conference, Premier François Legault and Health Minister Danielle McCann provided updates on the health care resources in place to test and treat patients. 

The province is currently testing around 3,000 people daily. That number will increase to 5,000 by Friday, they said. Quebec currently has 2,300 hospital beds ready to treat COVID-19 patients, and plans are in the works to make available as many as 6,000.

In addition, more nurses are being trained to handle calls to the public health hotline, 811, though the government still wants people to call 1-877-644-4545 to see if they qualify for testing. 

"The health care network is ready," Legault said. 

The premier thanked the dozens of Quebec artists and cultural figures who took up his call Tuesday to help convey the importance of social distancing to young people. 

Social media accounts have been buzzing with videos and songs reminding people to wash their hands and stay at home if they can. "I'm impressed by the solidarity," Legault said.

"The battle will be long, and it's only getting started," he said. "Every action can save a life."

U.S. border closes, feds unveil aid package  

Earlier Wednesday, the federal government announced it had reached a deal with the U.S. government to close the border between the two countries to travellers. Goods will still be allowed to cross. 

"Travellers will no longer be permitted to cross the border for recreation and tourism," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. "In both our countries, we're encouraging people to stay home."

Ottawa also announced a wide range of financial measures aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the outbreak. They include a relaxing of the deadline to file federal taxes, emergency payments for people in isolation and payroll subsidies to businesses.

All together, Trudeau valued the measures at $82 billion. They are in addition to several emergency programs already announced by the Quebec government aimed at individuals and businesses. 

Meanwhile, in Quebec, stores and businesses continued Wednesday to reduce operations. The grocery store chains IGA, Provigo and Maxi will be closing at 8 p.m., Radio-Canada is reporting. The liquor commission, the SAQ, will also reduce hours at its outlets.

Air Transat, which is based in Montreal, announced it is gradually suspending all flights as a result of travel restrictions.

Sales for departures until April 30 are suspended immediately to most destinations in Europe and the United States. Sales to the Caribbean and Mexico are also suspended.

Repatriation flights, however, will continue for the next two weeks. People can still buy flights to or from Montreal and Lisbon or Paris, in order to get customers back to their home countries.

The company said a "full halt" date will be announced soon.

Porter also announced it was suspending its flights as of Friday, March 20. Service is currently expected to resume June 1.

With files from The Canadian Press

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