Montreal

Quebec widens ban on sales of alcohol after midnight, but doesn't add other restrictions to harder-hit regions

Despite recent rise in COVID-19 cases, Health Minister Christian Dubé says no regions will be moved to a more heightened status under the province’s COVID-19 alert system.

Health Minister Christian Dubé says situation being monitored, urges compliance on weekend

Quebec Health Minister Health Minister Christian Dubé responds to questions at a news conference Thursday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Despite a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, Health Minister Christian Dubé says no regions will be moved to a more heightened state of alert under the province's new colour-coded system.

Quebec reported 251 cases on Thursday, as well as an additional 248 that had previously gone unreported in Montreal.

But Dubé announced no measures except for banning the sale of alcohol after midnight at all establishments, including restaurants.

Earlier this week, he said bars could not serve alcohol after midnight, even if people were ordering food.

"We must do things correctly. Before doing that we must monitor the situation well and rely on evidence," he said Thursday.

Dubé once again urged the public to follow health guidelines, particularly as the weekend approaches.

There will be an increased police presence in yellow zones to ensure people are in compliance, he said. 

The increased spread of the virus, and growing concern among the public, has led to an increased demand for testing. The province has conducted upward of 25,000 daily tests in recent days.

Dubé said the wait times, which have been up to four or five hours in some cases, have been "unacceptable."

But he said regional health authorities are short on medical staff, and other essential services risk being compromised if too many resources are devoted to testing.

He said he's hopeful some parts of the province will, in the coming weeks, be downgraded to green, the lowest level under the alert system. 

The trend in some parts of the province, however, doesn't look good. 

In Montreal, Dr. Mylène Drouin, the city's public health director, said the previously unreported cases were recorded between Sept. 9 and Sept. 14.

She blamed the delay on the increased demands on her team.

She said the rise of cases has meant they have had to contact more people and that created a backlog in inputting data.

One of the outbreaks was at Herzliah High School in Montreal. The Jewish private school became the first in the province to shut down after several students contracted COVID-19.

In Quebec City, one of the regions with the biggest jump in cases, at least seven patients and another seven staff at the local cardiology institute contracted the virus, and several more are in isolation. 

The number of people in hospital and intensive care has crept up, as well, but remains low. There are currently 136 people in hospital (an increase of six), including 29 in intensive care (an increase of three).

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's public health director, said those numbers are likely to increase over time if the virus continues to spread in the community.

The province's colour-coded alert system has become a key part of the province's messaging since it was introduced earlier this month. 

But details remain hazy on the distinctions between the various levels. A document made public earlier this week offered some insight into what living in an orange or red zone would look like — but Dubé said the details of that plan were out of date.

Janusz Kaczorowski, a professor and research director in the department of emergency and family medicine at Université de Montréal, said the new colour-coded system lacks specifics.

"It doesn't really tell us what's going to happen if it's yellow or orange or red," he said. 

"I think for those measures to be effective, they would have to be much more specific in terms of spelling out exactly what we expect people to do, how we're going to limit the amount of large gatherings, or how we're going to impact on openings of bars, restaurants and so forth."

With files from Sarah Leavitt

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