Most of Laurentians turning into red zone with pressure on hospitals mounting

Quebec François Legault says further restrictions could be announced next week, with the latest projections showing the province's hospitals will be put under an increased strain in the coming weeks.

Projections show hospitalizations will mount in coming weeks

Quebec Premier François Legault, left, and Health Minister Christian Dubé held a news conference Friday marking the end of the fall session and updating the COVID-19 situation. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec Premier François Legault says further restrictions could be announced next week, with the latest projections showing the province's hospitals will be put under an increased strain in the coming weeks.

A weekly report from Quebec's health research institute, the INESSS, shows the number of cases climbed 21 per cent compared to the previous week, with a rise in particular in Montreal and the surrounding area.

The institute also projects an increase in hospitalizations of 26 per cent in the coming month, with the highest totals in the Montreal region.

The province also appears to be worried about a growing number of cases in the Laurentians.

Two more regions — the MRC des Laurentides and the MRC des Pays-d'en-Haut — which encompass some of the Laurentians' biggest tourism areas, including Saint-Sauveur, Sainte-Adèle and Mont-Tremblant will become red zones as of Monday.

That leaves only two MRCs in the region still designated as orange zones. 

The regional public health director, Dr. Éric Goyer, says both the MRC des Laurentides and the MRC des Pays-d'en-Haut have a high proportion of seniors among their populations. 

"It's really about the capacity of our health-care network and the fact that that the number of cases is increasing rapidly," he said in an update on the situation Friday. He noted there are only two hospitals for both MRCs. 

Public health officials are asking people to avoid travelling between zones as much as possible.

The downside of being a tourism hub

Morin-Heights Mayor Tim Watchorn says he wishes the provincial government had set up roadblocks to help prevent people from red zones from travelling to the Laurentians in the past couple of months. 

"We were worried this was going to happen," Watchorn said. "Every weekend, restaurants in Saint-Sauveur and Sainte-Adèle were packed full of people, and I can pretty much guarantee it wasn't all local people."

Until last week, Watchorn said Morin-Heights had registered only 27 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. 

"Now, this week, we have 10. So, it's scary for the people up here. We have an aging population and we try and take care of them, and stick together."

Legault said the holiday break represents an opportunity to reduce the spread of the virus, but only if people avoid gatherings.

"If we want to reduce the contagion, we must reduce our contacts," Legault said. "We're evaluating whether we need to add restrictions."

But Health Minister Christian Dubé said the government was also looking at whether it would be possible to authorize small outdoor gatherings, for people who want to safely see family and friends over the holiday. 

Several hospitals have already been forced to scale back surgeries.

As of late Friday morning, two hospitals north of Montreal were operating well beyond capacity, with Saint-Jerôme Hospital at 143 per cent and Laurentien Hospital in Saint-Agathe-des-Monts at 172 per cent.

Across the province, Quebec reported there are now more than 870 people in hospital.

With files from Matt D'Amours


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