UPDATE: Four new deaths linked to COVID-19 in Quebec as confirmed cases spike to almost 2,500. Read story HERE.
MONTREAL - Quebec now has 2,021 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon and 10 more patients have died, provincial health officials announced.
That's up 392 from the 1,629 cases that were reported Thursday afternoon. There are now 18 deaths in Quebec linked to COVID-19, up from the eight that were reported 24 hours earlier.
There are now 141 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, health authorities announced, with 50 of them in intensive care.
There are 7,236 Quebecers awaiting test results, while 32,335 tests have come back negative.
There are 29 people who had been infected with COVID-19 who have now recovered.
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Of the 2,021 confirmed cases in the province, 971 are in the Montreal area and 227 are in the Eastern Townships. You can find a complete regional breakdown here.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault on Friday asked people in Montreal and the Eastern Townships - the regions with the largest number of cases in the province - to remain home and asked other Quebecers not to make any non-essential travel to those two regions.
However, Legault said while there are no plans yet to quarantine either region and prevent travel to or from them.
Legault acknowledged that Quebec has become the epicentre of COVID-19 in Canada. He said that was caused by the timing of the province's March break, which came right before the government asked Quebecers not to travel.
He reiterated his call for Quebecers to follow social distancing guidelines.
"We have to be even more careful than we were last week. Right now, we have more people that are infected," he said. "We have to absolutely stay home unless it's to get or give essential services that include helping the elderly and those not having anything to eat. It's important that we reduce the possibility of giving the virus to somebody else. It's even more critical than it was a week ago."
Quebec also announced some measures aimed at easing the impact of COVID-19 on Quebecers and businesses, including following the federal government's lead by allowing them to postpone filing their QST returns and payments for March, April and May until June 30, and accelerating the processing of their tax credits and refunds.
Quebecers respond to call for volunteers
On Thursday Legault had called on Quebecers in good health and under the age of 70 to volunteer with food banks and other aid groups that are helping the needy duing the pandemic. Legault expressed gratitude Friday to Quebecers who heeded his call, noting that 12,000 people signed up on Day 1, at one point overwhelming the website set up for people to sign up. "We can be proud of that response," Legault said.
Quebec on Friday remained on a province-wide lockdown, with only essential businesses and services allowed to continue operations until April 13.
Legault will be taking Saturday off from the province's daily COVID-19 updates; he will be replaced by Deputy Premier and Minister of Public Security Genevieve Guilbault.