Montreal

7th wave has begun, but no new COVID-19 restrictions coming, Quebec health officials say

Quebec is now in a seventh COVID-19 wave, according to Dr. Luc Boileau, the province's public health director. This is the first wave since the provincial government scrapped virtually all public health restrictions, including mandatory masking on public transit.

Surge in cases, hospitalizations could reach peak in coming weeks, Quebec public health director says

Two men in suits are seated at a table giving a news conference
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé, right, seen here with Dr. Luc Boileau in mid-February, joined the public health director for a COVID-19 update Thursday for the first time in months. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

A little more than a week after telling Quebecers it was too soon to say if a seventh wave of COVID-19 had begun in the province, the continued surge in cases and hospitalizations since then has changed the mind of the province's public health director.

"For me, it's a seventh wave," said Dr. Luc Boileau. "It's a surge that's taking the shape of a wave," acknowledging his claim still needs to be confirmed by Quebec's public health institute (INSPQ). 

This wave is the province's first since the removal of virtually all public health restrictions, including mandatory masking on public transit. 

The number of COVID-19 patients in Quebec hospitals has grown more by more than 50 per cent, from 1,007 to 1,534 in the last month.

Boileau said that the growing number of COVID-19 patients could peak in the coming weeks, and he doesn't believe the situation will continue to worsen throughout the summer.

WATCH | Health minister responds to idea of adding restrictions: 

Dubé argues why new restrictions are not needed

3 months ago
Duration 0:55
Quebec's health minister Christian Dubé says people have the power to control the latest wave of COVID-19 on their own.

But despite the speed with which COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased in recent weeks, the province doesn't plan to impose new public health restrictions. 

"There's no specific announcement [today]. I don't want anyone to get worried," said Health Minister Christian Dubé at a news conference Thursday. "We're no longer at the point of imposing things when people are well aware of the risks. It's just a question of reminding them."

Dubé and Boileau — in their first joint COVID-19 update in months — stressed that Quebecers must respect isolation rules and avoid gatherings after testing positive for the virus.

They urge people to isolate for five days once symptoms appear and to only resume essential activities while wearing a mask for five additional days, as long as their condition has improved.

It is important to avoid going to restaurants and festivals or visiting friends during this period, the public health director said. 

"Clearly, there are a lot of people that are not respecting the isolation period," said Boileau.

"The situation is under control, but we have to remain careful," Dubé said.

Boileau and Dubé are also once again asking Quebecers in at-risk populations, including people over the age of 60, to get their a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose if it's been at least three months since their third shot. 

The Health Ministry has prepared a chart to help people decide if and when they should get vaccinated again.

So far, only 55 per cent of eligible Quebecers have received their third dose, according to public health data.

On Thursday, the province reported 1,755 confirmed cases, which is most certainly an underestimate, given the limited availability of PCR testing.

Quebec stopped providing the tests to the general public in January during the Omicron wave. On Thursday, Dubé said there are no plans to expand the use of those PCR tests.

Why no mask rule in pharmacies?

Although the government insists new public health restrictions are not needed, it should consider imposing rules that can help limit the spread of the virus without putting a burden on the population, said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an attending physician in the infectious diseases division at the Jewish General Hospital.

He acknowledged that would not be easy.

"It will be difficult for the government to make an announcement about widespread reinstitution of measures, given a lot of pushback and resistance," Oughton said.

He applauded the province for maintaining mandatory mask rules in health-care settings, but said masks should also be required in pharmacies, where people often go to receive health services.

"Think about how important pharmacies have become to our societal response to COVID," he said. "Where do you to go get a rapid antigen test? At the pharmacy. Where do you go get vaccinated? Often, at a pharmacy."

"I think we should recognize that pharmacies have a high chance of having people who are either sick or at risk of becoming sick."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Antoni Nerestant is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

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