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COVID-19 in Quebec: What you need to know Tuesday

Researchers are struggling to explain why Quebec had the country's highest official COVID-19 death toll, but a relatively low number of excess deaths.

Despite pandemic, Quebec had low excess death toll, puzzling researchers

Quebec only had 4,033 excess deaths between March 2020 and October 2021, despite reporting 11,470 COVID-19 fatalities. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
  • On Tuesday, Quebec reported 1,181 people in hospital (an increase of four from the previous day), including 32 in intensive care (a decrease of one from the previous day).
  • The province reported 513 new cases of COVID-19 and 8 deaths. 
  • Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,066,195 confirmed cases, and 15,420 people have died.
  • The province also reported 3,868 health-care workers absent for COVID-related reasons.
  • 91 per cent of the eligible population in the province (aged five and up) has received at least one dose of the vaccine; 55 per cent have received a third dose and 14 per cent have received a fourth dose.

*The new cases are those reported to the Quebec government only. They are believed to be an underrepresentation of the virus's spread, given the limited availability of PCR tests and use of home testing kits.

*Quebec's Health Ministry no longer reports COVID-19 numbers on the weekend.

Researchers are struggling to explain why Quebec had the country's highest official COVID-19 death toll, but a relatively low number of excess deaths.

A study — titled Excess mortality, COVID-19 and health-care systems in Canada — looked at excess deaths, which refers to when observed deaths exceed expectations based on previous years' data, between March 2020 and October 2021.

Quebec only had 4,033 excess deaths in that period, despite reporting 11,470 COVID-19 fatalities — almost three times more. It's the biggest gap recorded in Canada during the pandemic.

Kimberlyn McGrail, professor at University of British Columbia's school of population and public health, said she didn't have a definitive answer to explain the discrepancy.

But one reason that could explain the gap, she said, is that Quebec officials were testing many people who — for reasons unrelated to COVID-19 — may have been already close to death.

Calls for ethical wastewater testing

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater surveillance and analysis became a key tool in monitoring and measuring the amount of virus in communities.

But some experts caution that the data collected from these studies could also lead to privacy concerns, especially because samples are often gathered from public sources without individual consent.

"Bioethics, which sort of underlies what health-care providers do, has historically been based upon 'do no harm' — and the idea of informed consent," said Steve Hrudey, a professor emeritus from the University of Alberta's department of laboratory medicine and pathology. "Well, informed consent is really not possible for this kind of technique."

"The case for maximizing the potential of this approach is compelling, but the benefits of wastewater surveillance must clearly outweigh the ethical risks for the community," the paper reads.

Quebec resumed monitoring wastewater for COVID-19 in March, after a pilot project that ended in December due to a lack of funding.

More late-stage cancer diagnoses due to pandemic

More Canadians could experience late-stage cancer diagnoses in the years ahead, medical experts warn, forecasting a looming crisis tied to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We expect to see more advanced stages of presentation over the next couple of years, as well as impacts on cancer treatments," said oncologist Dr. Timothy Hanna, a clinician scientist at the Cancer Research Institute at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

One review of Ontario's breast, lung, colon, and cervical cancer screening programs showed that in 2020 there were 41 per cent — or more than 951,000 — fewer screening tests conducted compared with the year before.

Screening volumes rebounded after May 2020, but were still 20 per cent lower compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Top COVID-19 stories

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? 

  • Fever. 
  • New or worsening cough. 
  • Difficulty breathing. 
  • Sudden loss of smell without a stuffy nose.
  • Gastrointestinal issues (such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting).
  • Sore throat
  • Generalized muscle pain.
  • Headache.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.

You can find information on COVID-19 in the province here and information on the situation in Montreal here


With files from the Canadian Press