'It's not sufficient': Experts worry new measures won't reduce strain on Quebec hospitals
MONTREAL -- In a much anticipated press conference Wednesday night, the Legault government announced new measures in response to Quebec's record-shattering jump in COVID-19 cases, but experts worry the adjustments won’t be enough to curb the spike.
Beginning on Dec. 26, gatherings will be limited to 6 people or two family bubbles. As for the Christmas holidays, up to 10 people will be permitted to gather, although the premier is urging Quebecers to keep celebrations as small as possible on Dec. 24 and 25.
Even with tighter measures, infectious diseases expert Dr. Donald Vinh fears a lot of damage could be done in the coming days.
“I hope that the next three to four days won’t lead to continued spreading-events,” he said, emphasizing the severity of infection rates in the province.
On Thursday, the province reported 9,397 new cases, the highest single-day increase in Canada since the pandemic began. Six more deaths were also reported, bringing the total death count to 11,658.
“What I can say is that in Quebec, we have numbers that are astounding,” Dr. Vinh said. “It’s actually quite frightening, because it’s not just the community cases. You know that a proportion of those cases will end up in the hospital.”
Although early data suggests the Omicron strain of COVID-19 is less deadly than the Delta variant, it appears to be much more contagious. Omicron currently makes up 90 per cent of new cases in Montreal, according to public health authorities.
The government reported an increase of 28 hospitalizations on Thursday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 patients in hospital to 473.
“At the end of the day, the hospitals, we don’t care what the percentage [is], we care about what the absolute number of patients in our beds,” said Dr. Vinh.
Epidemiological expert Dr. Christopher Labos agrees.
“It could be very easy to overwhelm the healthcare system and for us to start running out of beds and personnel to actually take care of people when they get sick,” he told CTV News on Thursday.
Dr. Labos said he’s surprised the government didn’t announce stricter measures to combat the spread.
“There wasn’t really a major change,” he said.
"I realize that it’s a very difficult balancing act, but that being said, given the way the situation has evolved with the rising number of cases, tighter health restrictions, I think, are going to help preserve the healthcare system.”
Although the premier claimed at the press conference that Quebec has the “toughest measures in North America” to fight against COVID-19, Dr. Vinh says those measures just aren’t cutting it.
“Whether we have the toughest measures or not, clearly it’s not sufficient.”
‘DIY’ PUBLIC HEALTH
The province also announced it would be scaling back contact-tracing to shift focus to booster shots of the vaccine. In the meantime, Quebec's public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said contact tracing will fall on the shoulders of citizens.
For the time being, anyone who contracts COVID is urged to inform their own contacts — but Dr. Vinh says this approach may be dangerous.
“I don’t deny that we are all stretched thin and we are all short-staffed, both at the public health level and at the healthcare worker, hospital level. But DIY public health, a do-it-yourself approach, I’m not sure how effective that will be,” he said.
“The public is not trained to do public health. That is a medical act.”