Quebec's health minister says outlying regions that were spared during the winter Omicron wave are being hit hard by the sixth wave, but the province won't add restrictions or change its strategy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christian Dubé told reporters Thursday in Quebec City that despite the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the government won't be imposing new health orders.

Quebecers need "to continue to be prudent, especially in regions that have not been as affected by Omicron in the fifth wave," he said.

He said parts of the province that weren't as affected as Montreal during the past wave are the ones currently seeing significant rises in infections.

Dubé said interim public health director Luc Boileau will decide soon whether to lift the province's mask mandate by mid-April as planned or to extend it.

Boileau told CJAD 800 Radio Thursday that he thinks it may change.

“There's a real question there, so we have to discuss with the government our recommendation for keeping the masks a couple of weeks more,” he said.

LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: Welcome to the 6th wave, a conversation with Quebec public health director Dr. Luc Boileau

Quebec's College of Physicians says it's worried about that, too.

"The situation is changing rapidly," it said in a tweet. "And the mask remains one of the most effective measures to limit the spread."

Meanwhile, health officials are reporting 12 more deaths Thursday attributed to the novel coronavirus and a 38-patient rise in hospitalizations.

They say 1,238 people are in hospital with the virus after 151 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 113 were discharged. There are 66 people in intensive care, a rise of six.

Quebec's public health institute (INSPQ) on Wednesday projected that an average of 200 patients with COVID-19 are expected to be admitted every day to the province's hospitals within two weeks' time.

It added that the number of people needing intensive care should also rise during that period, but is not expected to put significant pressure on the health system.


The start of the sixth wave comes as the bill to end the public health state of emergency went to committee, something Dubé acknowledges is not great timing.

"I think there is no timing with the sixth wave. Let's make sure today we clarify how we want to remove the measures. But we need transition, that's exactly the purpose of this [bill]," he said.

The bill has been sharply criticized for not specifying what emergency powers the government wants to keep until the end of the year.

The Quebec Bar Association is arguing it wants more transparency.

The opposition parties are also upset Dubé didn't notify them about amendments to the bill before the committee hearings began.

"The government, basically, is playing a game saying to the people: We're going to lift what bothers you, but we will keep some powers in hand. That's not fair," said Quebec Solidaire health critic Vincent Marissal.

"It's a cheap shot, it's not acceptable," added Liberal health ciritic Monsef Derraji. "It's not the right way to collaborate with these groups."

In response to that criticism, Dube filed two amendments:

  • changing the title of the bill to indicate the emergency measures will indeed be temporary
  • outlining powers that will be maintained as long as the bill is in force, including the ability to force health-care workers to work in vaccination clinics and bringing back retired workers, even if they don't have a licence. 

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2022. With files from CTV News Montreal's Andrew Brennan.