Quebec's 6th wave could be as bad as the last, health expert warns

A top infectious disease specialist in Quebec says there is a disconnect between government inaction and the gravity of the increasing number of hospitalizations and deaths. 

'The pandemic is not over' infectious diseases specialist says

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé says most mask mandates are still expected to be lifted in two weeks, despite the province officially entering a sixth wave. (Marc Bruxelle/Getty Images)

A top infectious diseases specialist in Quebec says there is a disconnect between government inaction and the gravity of the increasing number of hospitalizations and deaths. 

Dr. Cécile Tremblay, a microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at the CHUM hospital in Montreal, says the province's health-care system could soon become overwhelmed — once again — with 10,000 health-care workers already off the job amid the sixth pandemic wave of infections. 

In two weeks, the province is expected to lift nearly all masking requirements. 

Though interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau said he would be advising the government on whether to keep mask mandates and reimpose restrictions next week, Health Minister Christian Dubé has said, so far, those plans aren't changing.

Boileau said he's counting on Quebecers to use common sense, be careful and reduce their contacts.

Dr. Cécile Tremblay is an infectious diseases specialist at the CHUM hospital in Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

But Tremblay said that won't be enough to protect hospital capacity. The Omicron BA.2 variant is even more infectious than the previous one — up to 70 per cent more by some estimates, she said.

"I don't think the [government] message is appropriate to what the situation is right now," Tremblay said, noting it leaves at-risk populations to fend for themselves.

"Ten to 12 people a day die from COVID. You know, that's a lot of people dying," she said. "Is this what it means to be living with the virus? Not for me. I don't accept that."

Tremblay said she is not in favour of another complete shutdown but she is calling on the government to keep masking restrictions and to reduce capacity in some businesses where there is more risk of infection, such as restaurants

"The pandemic is not over and this sixth wave is probably going to be as bad as the fifth one. We should at least have the same sense of urgency," Tremblay said. 

Thursday, the province reported 1,238 people in hospital, 3,319 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths. 

'Time to act as responsible citizens'

Myrna Lashley, a psychologist and associate professor at McGill University, said it's clear the government is wary of reimposing restrictions because it is concerned about backlash and economic fallout. 

As a result, Lashley is advising Quebecers to exercise caution in order to protect themselves and others. 

Psychologist Myrna Lashley says Quebecers have a duty to behave as responsible citizens as COVID infections continue to rise but public health rules start to ease. (Naskademini)

"A lot of people complained that they were being treated as children and that their agency was removed from them and they were being told what to do," Lashley said.

"Well, now's the time to show that sense of responsibility. Now is the time to really act as responsible citizens."

News that a sixth wave was underway came as Dubé kicked off consultations Thursday on his bill to put an end to the health emergency.

In response to opposition criticism that he was trying to retain too many emergency powers, Dubé introduced amendments and a new title to the bill Thursday, to reflect the "temporary and transitional" measures the government wants to maintain.

One of the amendments would explicitly extend measures such as the authorization for health professionals like dental hygienists and veterinarians to administer COVID-19 vaccines, and allow for distance-learning in schools, among other measures.

It would allow also the government to maintain masking provisions until Dec. 31 at the latest. However, a spokesperson for the the minister clarified that the measure would be maintained until "Dr. Boileau has a new recommendation on this matter."

With files from Matt D'Amours and Ainslie MacLellan