Quebec is closing schools, bars, gyms and movie theaters as public health officials rush to slow the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said that in the face of the variant, which appears to double its spread every two days, the government must take action to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.
“The epidemiological situation is critical. The community spread is staggering, ”Dubé said at the press conference, appearing from his home alongside the director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda and Daniel Paré, responsible for the vaccination campaign in Quebec.
“Our healthcare system is already in crisis… and things are not improving. Hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions are increasing.
Elementary and secondary schools will close at the end of the day, with students not returning to in-person learning until January 10. This means that primary school students will have longer vacations and secondary students will switch to distance learning when classes are due. resume in the new year.
Training centers for adults and professionals will also close.
The elementary school buildings will remain open only for vaccination campaigns and the distribution of rapid test kits. School day care services will also continue to work for parents who really need them, giving priority to parents working in the health sector. Private and provincial daycares will also remain open.
Bars, gymnasiums, cinemas, concert halls and spas must close from 5 p.m. on Monday. Restaurants will have to reduce their capacity to 50% and limit their hours from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Professional sports must take place without spectators.
Homework is now compulsory for all non-essential workers, including civil servants. The provincial government is suspending all ministerial public activities, such as press conferences that are not related to COVID-19.
Dubé said more measures could be announced in the coming days.
Gatherings of up to 10 people from up to three households are still allowed, but not recommended – and that number could change, officials have warned.
“What we ask is that you limit your contacts to the strict minimum,” said the Minister of Health.
Hospitalizations, at 397, are already over half of the province’s capacity, which is at 671. Dubé said the low capacity in the system is not due to a lack of beds, but a serious lack of beds. staff, many of whom are on leave or have left altogether.
While the severity of the disease caused by the Omicron variant is not fully known, the speed at which it spreads will lead to more hospitalizations in a short period of time, no matter what, Dubé said.
“We are eight million people in Quebec. We are at war. We are at war right now against this virus, ”he said. “It is never seen, this has never been seen before. It’s incredible. The only way to deal with this crisis is to react as quickly as possible with the resources available. “
Several hospitals are again postponing elective surgeries. Laval’s Cité-de-la-Santé hospital has reported two outbreaks, with a total of six employees testing positive so far.
On Thursday, projections by the provincial government’s Institute for Health Research, INESSS, showed that up to 700 Quebecers could be hospitalized due to the virus by early January, including about 160 in intensive care.
Paré, the head of the province’s vaccination campaign, says Quebec is trying to speed up vaccinations to the third dose, but needs more people to administer the vaccines and is prioritizing the elderly, workers in health, populations at risk and long-term care. home residents.
Pharmacies slowly started receiving and distributing rapid test kits, causing long queues and the websites of several drugstore chains to crash as people tried to make appointments to pick them up.