Legault calls situation 'critical' as Quebec increases alert level in 4 regions

With cases of COVID-19 on the rise, Quebec Premier François Legault delivered a sobering warning to the public, saying social gatherings should be limited "as much as possible" to avoid having to close down schools and businesses.

Some regions recording more new cases than during spring

Quebec Premier François Legault described the current situation in Quebec as 'worrisome,' warning that there is 'a real risk of a second wave.' (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

With cases of COVID-19 on the rise, Quebec Premier François Legault delivered a sobering warning to the public, saying social gatherings should be limited "as much as possible" to avoid having to close down schools and businesses.

"The situation is critical. It's worrisome and we must act now," he said at a news conference Tuesday.

"There is a real risk of a second wave."

The grim message came as Quebec recorded more than 200 cases for six days in a row, with 291 on Tuesday.

The province has a seven-day moving average of 28 cases per million inhabitants, far surpassing the 20 cases per million public health had set as a threshold last month.

Legault announced that four regions classified as green under Quebec's colour-coded alert system — Montreal, the Montérégie, Lower Saint-Lawrence and Chaudière-Appalaches — were moved up to the yellow level under the province's regional alert system.

WATCH | Legault calls on public to limit gatherings:

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Quebec City, the Eastern Townships, the Outaouais region and Laval are already designated as yellow. Under that alert level, activities are still allowed in compliance with health rules, with added enforcement and potential fines to make sure they are followed.

Several regions, including Quebec City and the Lower Saint-Lawrence regions, are being watched closely, and could move to the orange — or "moderate alert" — level next week, sources told Radio-Canada.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said that would mean new restrictions, including the possible closure of bars and reducing the number of people allowed at private gatherings from 10 to six.

For now, though, Dubé limited the new restrictions to the closure of kitchen service at bars after midnight.

People will also now be required to wear masks in private seniors homes, known as RPAs.

"The RPAs for me, that's our next problem if we're not careful," Dubé said.

A region's alert level is based on three criteria: the epidemiological situation, the rate of transmission and the capacity of the region's health-care system.

Fragile system

Dubé was visibly frustrated as he recounted some of the outbreaks that have contributed to the resurgence of the virus.

Among the sources: a hairdresser in Chaudière-Appalaches who was contagious but continued to work, serving 15 clients in six different locations, including a private seniors' residence and a long-term care home.

(Dubé originally said she was aware she was contagious, but later walked back the remark.)

In Montérégie, he said, a gathering of 17 people in a restaurant resulted in 31 confirmed cases. Hundreds more will have to be monitored. 

"We will have to screen 330 clients who registered on that restaurant's log," he said. "Imagine the workload for the people in public health to contact all these people."

Dubé also reported that a corn roast in the Lower St. Lawrence resulted in 30 cases.

"Our health-care system is already fragile," he said. "And every time that we have a new case, or that we have to work with public health, or that this person can one day go to a clinic or to hospital, this is health-care staff we are using that we could have avoided."

Most of the recent outbreaks are outside Montreal, in regions that escaped the worst of the spring wave of cases.

Quebec City recorded 60 cases on Monday, more than on any other day since the pandemic began.

The 29 cases reported in Lower Saint-Lawrence on Sept. 12 were far more than were recorded on any other day during the pandemic.

In that region, the new cases reported in each of the past five days were all higher than on any day during the spring wave — the previous maximum, on two occasions in early April, was five new cases.

Despite the rise in cases, the number of hospitalizations and deaths remains low compared to the figures reported in the spring, when more than 100 people were reported dead on a daily basis as the virus ravaged long-term care homes in the province.

But Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's public health director, warned those numbers could creep up in the coming weeks and months. 

He said that historically, the second wave of a pandemic tends to be much worse than the first.

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