Montreal

Will Quebec's lockdown be extended now that COVID-19 is still surging? Some experts hope so

With the average number of new COVID-19 infections hovering over 2,000 per day, some experts believe the Quebec government will have no choice but to extend the current economic lockdown.

Premier François Legault called for closure of non-essential businesses until Jan. 11

Tape warns shoppers they can't buy non-essential items in a Montreal pharmacy. This is a common sight across Quebec at the moment and is supposed to last until Jan. 11. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

With the average number of new COVID-19 infections hovering over 2,000 per day, some experts believe the Quebec government will have no choice but to extend the current economic lockdown.

For more than two weeks, the second wave has been swelling, and while Premier François Legault said restrictions would be lifted on Jan. 11, medical experts like Dr. Mathieu Simon say the current rate of infection is "huge."

"I think it would be very ill-advised to release the pressure on containment until the numbers drop," said Simon, who heads intensive care at Quebec City's Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec (IUCPQ).

Dozens of tickets were issued to those caught gathering for Christmas dinner or to pop bottles of champagne on New Year's, but many illegal parties went undeterred, and because of this, hospitalizations are on the rise, Simon said.

"We began to see, at the end of the holiday season, people who were in gatherings of this type, ending up in hospital or intensive care," he told Radio-Canada.

A total of 7,663 people have tested positive since Dec. 31 and 121 have died, according to Sunday morning's public health report.

There are 1,225 people in hospital, an increase of 150 since Dec. 31, and 179 of those patients are in intensive care (an increase of 13).

Restrictions fail to flatten curve so far

Benoît Mâsse, an epidemiologist and public health professor at Université de Montréal, said the curve is going in the wrong direction despite the government's effort to deter gatherings.

A month ago, 75 economic and health-care specialists signed an open letter calling on the government to impose a large-scale lockdown during the holidays to coincide with school break.

The letter stated that further spread of the virus, before the arrival of the vaccine, could delay the province's economic recovery by months to come and force kids to stay home from school.

However, Mâsse was not among those who signed the letter. At the time, he believed a two-week shutdown would increase anxiety in a population that was already feeling frustrated.

In fact, Mâsse predicted the stricter measure may not be enough to reverse the trend. So far, his prediction is coming true.

"Right now we're not controlling the COVID, COVID is controlling us," said Dr. François Marquis, head of the critical care unit at Montreal's Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital.

"All the big hospitals are the backup system of the province, so if the backup system isn't working because everyone is sick, then you will have a very, very big problem."

Marquis said he's starting to see patients who were infected around Christmas, likely during an illegal gathering.

Impact of lockdown takes time

Legault's plan to shut down non-essential businesses — adding to the already closed cinemas, gyms, bars and restaurants in red zones — began on Christmas Day.

On Sunday, Legault said on Twitter that the number of positive cases in Quebec is unprecedented.

"Let's be very careful to protect our vulnerable people and our health-care workers," he wrote.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said on Twitter that cases are rising despite the holiday rules. He, too, encouraged people to buckle down.

Simon said it takes 10 to 14 days to see the effects of such restrictive health measures. That means the impact of the restrictions should be evident in the daily statistics next week.

Until then, he said, each new case declared is a concern as it means there will surely be more hospitalizations in a time when the system is under substantial pressure.

Quebec may have closed non-essential businesses, but people are still able to get their grocery shopping done as they have for several months now — with a mask on. (Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada )

"That is to say, if you have a day with 2,500 cases, we know that in the next 14 days, on average, there should be 250 new hospitalizations, and of this number, 20 to 25 people in intensive care," Simon said.

Pressure on the health-care network cannot be sustained indefinitely, he said, and he worries that lifting restrictions could send the wrong message to the population.

"It is more difficult to confine, deconfine, confine, than it is to tell people that confinement is extended another week, or 10 days," Simon said.

11% positivity rate is worrying, Da Silva says

Roxane Borgès Da Silva, also a public health professor at Université de Montréal, is among those who called for a "circuit-breaker" lockdown — meaning closing everything except for essential businesses — between Dec. 20 and Jan. 3.

On Sunday, Da Silva told Radio-Canada that she is concerned about reopening schools and returning to normal when there are so many new cases every day.

She said 11 per cent of tests are coming back positive while the World Health Organization recommends a lockdown at just five per cent.

"As we have a very high positivity rate of COVID-19, we may have to do a strict lockdown," she said on Sunday. "I am very scared for the children."

With files from Radio-Canada

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