As Quebec City slides into a deeper shade of red, civic leaders plead for everyone to heed the rules

The epicentre of the second coronavirus wave is in the greater Quebec City area, and elected officials decided to put on an unusual display of political force to regain a weary populace's attention.

Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault warns the capital region is "going straight into a wall"

Quebec Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault is joined by Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume and Lévis Mayor Gilles Lehouillier at a news conference on Friday to address the rampant community spread of coronavirus in the capital region. (Sylvain Roy Rousselle/CBC)

The day was Sept. 21, the number of new coronavirus cases in Quebec City was hitting record levels, and a decidedly peevish Mayor Régis Labeaume said "I think we're heading straight into a wall."

Fast forward six weeks, and this time it was a provincial cabinet heavyweight, Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault, who sat before the cameras and removed the question of "think" from the equation.

"I want to be extremely frank and crystal clear with you: if we keep on the same track as we currently are [on], we are going straight into a wall," Guilbeault said.

The region's residents have let their guard down, she said, and are not following public health rules strictly enough.

The city's health care system, she continued, is "on the brink of a service breakdown."

"The health care system will not even be able to take care of you anymore," Guilbault warned. "Imagine if you can no longer be operated for a hip replacement, or your cancer diagnosis is delayed. This is what's at stake here."

United front

Guilbault, the political minister for the region, was joined on a stage by Labeaume and his Lévis counterpart Gilles Lehouillier, and in the room by a phalanx of public health officials from all over the region. 

The event was notable if only for the fact the two municipal leaders, Labeaume and Lehouillier, are political opponents who have nurtured a bitter running feud for years. 

"Public health is more important than all that stuff," Labeaume said.

Guilbault's tone was dire, and for good reason.

As of last week, Quebec City and its immediate neighbours had recorded four times as many COVID-19 infections as they had last spring — and five times more deaths. The number of outbreaks has more than doubled, to 161, since Oct. 1.

Chaudière-Appalaches, across the St. Lawrence, is in similarly bad shape.

There's an ongoing outbreak in the region's main COVID intake centre, and the hospital in Thetford Mines has had to temporarily close its obstetrics ward.

Of the 80 outbreaks in the region, Lehouiller said just three are in CLSCSs. Forty are in workplaces.

"It's different than the first wave," the Lévis mayor said.

Also unlike the first wave, Montreal is not the worst-hit city in Quebec, and Canada.

"The epicentre of the pandemic is here in the Capitale Nationale," Guilbault said.

At a tipping point

Though Friday's news conference was clearly intended to shock people into compliance, Guilbault didn't introduce any new measures. For now, everyone is content to ask for co-operation, rather than increase enforcement.

"My sense is we're at a tipping point," Labeaume said. "And being at a tipping point is dangerous, because there's a 50/50 chance the needle falls on the wrong side."

The three politicians also went out of their way to stress they understand that people are fed up with COVID restrictions and warnings.

"People are not just tired, they're mad … but they have to understand, there's no way out," said Labeaume. "We have to be vigilant 24 hours a day, it's not going to go away just like that, as Mr. Trump said."

'We are going straight into a wall'

2 years ago
Duration 1:55
Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault warns residents in the Capital and Chaudière-Appalaches regions that they're approaching the point of "breakdown" in the health care system and they need to bring the COVID-19 transmission under control.

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