Quebec is ramping up efforts to crack down on people flouting public health measures as the novel coronavirus pandemic persists in the province.
Premier François Legault announced Wednesday that he has asked police forces to hand out more fines to those who don’t respect the rules in place, such as a ban on multi-household gatherings in designated red zones.
“We cannot allow a minority of people to put the majority at risk,” he told reporters in Quebec City, adding that tickets can go up to $6,000.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said “the period of warnings is over” in the province and a public alert will be issued at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to remind people of the rules. People are asked to reduce their contacts as Quebec grapples with a spike in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
The province reported 1,728 new cases and 37 additional deaths Wednesday. Health authorities say of those deaths, seven occurred in the past 24 hours, while the others were retroactively added to the death toll.
Hospitalizations linked to the virus rose again. The number of patients in hospitals across the province increased by nine to 844. Of them, there are 121 people in intensive care units, seven more than the previous day.
Legault said the number of hospitalizations is too high, putting pressure on health-care workers who have been on the front lines of the pandemic for months.
As the holiday season looms, Legault reiterated his call on employers to allow workers to work from home to stem the tide of COVID-19.
The premier also warned again that he is not against rolling out tighter measures if necessary if the second wave continues to evolve. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, Legault said the next few months will be tough.
“We exclude nothing,” Legault said.
“We really have to break the wave.”
In the past week, calls have grown for Quebec to implement a temporary lockdown to prevent the situation from worsening as some hospitals are forced to cancel surgeries.
Medical expert Dr. Mitch Shulman told Global News that “ramping down elective surgeries and closing clinics is penalizing the very poor people who are suffering.” He suggests shutting down the province over the holiday break to help bring COVID-19 numbers back down.
“There would be minimal effect on the economy,” he said. “People would be able to be on vacation and enjoy themselves and we would keep the virus from propagating. And we wouldn’t have to cut back on elective surgeries more than we normally would over the holidays.”
Quebec’s caseload, which remains the highest in Canada, stands at 156,468, while recoveries have topped 133,000.
Since March, the health crisis has claimed the lives of 7,349 Quebecers. However, a death previously attributed to the virus has been withdrawn from the toll after authorities determined it was not due to the illness.
The province gave 30,024 tests Monday, the latest day for which that information is available. There have been more than 4.1 million tests to date.
Vaccinations set to start next week
In Quebec, vaccinations against the virus are scheduled to start at two long-term care homes in the province on Monday, Dubé said.
Maimonides, a long-term care centre hit hard by the second wave of the pandemic, in Côte Saint-Luc is one of the CHSLDs set to begin administering doses.
While vaccine manufacturer Pfizer has asked Canadian governments not to move boxes of vaccine once they are received, Dubé explained a number of the province’s 20 vaccine distribution sites are located in long-term care homes, allowing it to continue with its vaccine roll-out at those facilities.
The health minister said he hopes that once the province has demonstrated that it can handle the vaccine properly, Pfizer will allow for movement of the boxes.
Quebec’s vaccination campaign will specifically target residents of long-term care homes and private seniors’ residences, as well as health-care workers on the front line of the pandemic.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of public health, said 70 per cent of Quebecers who died as a result of the pandemic lived in those centres.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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