New projections find deconfinement in Montreal could lead to sharp increase in deaths

The current deconfinement plan in the Montreal area could lead to a rapid increase in deaths in the city, according to findings by Quebec's public health institute. 

Montreal could see up to 150 deaths per day by July with current deconfinement plan

Among the strategies to increase testing on the island of Montreal, six city buses will be converted into mobile testing sites that can test about 100 people a day. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The current deconfinement plan in the Montreal area could lead to a rapid increase in deaths in the city, according to findings released by Quebec's public health institute. 

The institute (INSPQ) published a report this week predicting stark numbers of deaths — as many as 150 per day by July — and hospitalizations in the Montreal area, with elementary schools and some retailers reopening May 25.

It doesn't take long-term care homes into account. 

The goal of the report, put together by experts at the INSPQ and Université Laval, was to "predict the potential impact of deconfinement strategies announced by the Quebec government for the Montreal area and other regions in the province."

Thursday, Premier François Legault announced the province was postponing the reopening of elementary schools, daycares and retail stores with outdoor entrances in the greater Montreal area by one week, until May 25. 

The INSPQ projections report found that the current deconfinement plan in Montreal could lead to a stark increase in deaths. The projections are more optimistic for the rest of Quebec. (Marc Brisson/INSPQ)

The government say it plans to increase testing to 14,000 a day and conduct contact tracing, which the report says could slow the spread of the virus. 

As for the rest of Quebec, the report's modelling found deconfinement measures would likely not lead to an increase in deaths and hospitalizations.

Gaston De Serres, a medical epidemiologist at the INSPQ who was part of the report's research team, says it shows how carefully Montreal must tread in easing physical-distancing measures.

"The message there is pretty clear. In the Greater Montreal area, there is very little wiggle room moving forward," he said. 

"The personal interactions people will have between each other is key, especially when you know the situation has so little margin of error."

People need to minimize interactions that could transmit the disease, he added.

"There is a personal responsibility to make sure that, OK, you are now allowed to go back to work? Well, you're not allowed to go back to work the same way you were in January," De Serres said.

If strict distancing measures continue beyond May 25, the report says it is hard to predict what could happen.

The report published two scenarios of what could happen if that's the case — one optimistic, one pessimistic — painting vastly different pictures, with either a decrease in cases or a rapid increase.

It states the virus's unpredictability as a reason for the dichotomy between the two scenarios. 

"The epidemic situation of COVID-19 is uncertain. It is still difficult to determine the trajectory of the epidemic," the report says.

Trudeau 'concerned' about situation in Montreal, rest of province

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked whether he was concerned about Quebec's deconfinement plans during in his briefing to the country Saturday. 

"Of course I'm worried — as a Quebecer, as an MP — about the situation going on in my riding, in the province, as I am concerned about Canadians coast to coast to coast, as prime minister," said Trudeau.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The prime minister, who represents the Papineau riding in Montreal, said he is monitoring the situation in the Quebec's seniors' homes and that he is working very closely with all provincial governments to ensure the decisions that are being made will keep people safe. 

Trudeau said he wouldn't want to see the rules loosened, then reinstated if the virus keeps spreading — which is what Legault said he would do. 

"The last thing people want is a few weeks from now being told, 'OK, we loosened the rules and now [COVID-19] is spreading again and you're all going to have to go inside for the rest of the summer.' People don't want to do that," Trudeau said. 

"That's why being very careful, going step by step, is going to be so important."

With files from Sarah Leavitt

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