Quebec could see coronavirus vaccine as early as next year but ‘one step at a time,’ Arruda says

Quebec was right to extend restrictions in areas on red alert as the second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic gains steam in France and the United States, the province’s premier said Thursday.

François Legault said the partial lockdown measures and shutdowns in hard-hit regions as well as the sacrifices made by the public have helped stabilize the number of new cases in the province.

“All Quebecers have to be aware that the situation is critical,” he said. “The world is not going in the right direction for COVID-19.”

The tightened controls have been hard but necessary to keep the situation in check in Quebec, he added.

Read more: Quebec boosts mental health funding for youth, opposition calls for more help amid COVID-19 crisis

Legault specifically pointed to France, where officials are imposing a new month-long, nationwide lockdown starting this Friday to slow the spread of the virus amid a spike in cases and deaths. More than half the country’s intensive care units are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

“For now, we have avoided the worst,” Legault said. “But we see that if we get too confident, the virus will come back stronger.

“That’s why we’re keeping the restrictions in red zones.”

The province reported 1,030 new infections and 25 additional deaths linked to the virus on Thursday. Eight of those deaths occurred in the last 24 hours.

The caseload stands at 103,844 and the pandemic has claimed the lives of 6,214 Quebecers since March. It remains the province hardest hit by the health crisis.

READ MORE: France, Germany face new round of coronavirus lockdowns as cases surge

Authorities say there are five long-term care homes in Quebec where more than 25 per cent of residents have active cases of COVID-19 — down from eight care home the day before. They say there are six private seniors residences where more than 25 per cent of residents have active infections, a situation they describe as “critical.”

Hospitalizations continued to drop Thursday, falling by 17 to 509. Health authorities say 78 of those patients are in intensive care, a drop of 11 from the previous day.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said that while the number of COVID-19 cases has started to plateau and hospitalizations are dropping, only half the battle has been won.

The month of November will be an added test as the cold weather sets in, he added.

“The change in temperature, the fact that people are going to be more indoors,” Dubé said. “It’s really a good test for Quebecers in the coming weeks.”

The most recent data about screening shows 27,370 tests conducted on Tuesday. The province has administered 3,052,900 tests to date.

Will Quebec have a vaccine this winter?

Quebec’s director of public health said it is possible there will be a vaccine available as early as next year, but he was also cautious in his response.

Dr. Horacio Arruda said even if a vaccine becomes available soon “it doesn’t mean that we can vaccinate in one month all the population because the doses are not going to be there for everybody.”

Public health restrictions such as social distancing aren’t going away yet, he added.

“But I don’t want to be hopeless,” he said. “It is possible that we have a vaccine, even in Quebec and Canada, at the beginning of winter, next January, February.

“So I think it has to be taken one step at a time. It’s difficult to project, but we must not tell ourselves either, thinking, that everything will be over in June next year.”

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Doctors criticize centralization in hospitals

In Quebec, a group of nearly 700 doctors from dozens of hospitals say they are concerned about the centralization of health-care resources in hospitals.

In a letter obtained by the Canadian Press, the doctors allege the 2015 sweeping reforms under the previous government has had a direct impact on the province’s health network and the number of COVID-19 deaths.

They are asking the health ministry for flexibility to make more decisions at a local level as the pandemic continues.

Dubé, for his part, said Thursday that he is willing to hear suggestions and that he is open to making changes in hospital if necessary.

He also noted the government appointed a local manager to each long-term care home, known as CHSLDs in Quebec, ahead of the second wave to prevent the same mistakes made during the spring. Those managers are responsible for ensuring government directives are followed.

“And you saw what we did to remedy that with the CHSLDs, we said: we cannot continue to have this management where local expertise and local decisions cannot be taken,” Dubé said.

— With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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