MONTREAL -- With the city under a curfew and COVID-19 numbers continuing to rise on the island, Montreal is getting set to administer 2,000 doses of vaccine to homeless people.

Welcome Hall Mission director Sam Watts confirmed that health officials had settled on the idea after discussions over the last two weeks, amid a major outbreak among homeless Montrealers.

"Two thousand is a pretty good start," Watts said, estimating that the city's homeless population right now totals around 3,000.

"It'll cover a large percentage of the people who are in emergency shelter, who are the people who tend to wander on the street," he said, as opposed to those who have temporary housing.

"We've positioned this as an urban health issue," Watts said.

For those who are on the streets during the day, "if they're wandering around and potentially carrying the virus, they can exponentially infect others."

Some staff who work with the homeless have been vaccinated already, Watts said, and staff will be included in the upcoming push.

As for timing, it's unclear. There's a call this afternoon with public health authorities and after that, it should move quickly.

It will be "this week," said Dr. Mylene Drouin, Montreal's public health director, in a press conference Wednesday.

The situation among the homeless population is a concern with 172 cases reported (114 homeless, 58 workers), she said.

There are eight active outbreaks among the homeless, Drouin said, and an additional 150 beds will be added to the temporary shelter located in the old Royal Victoria Hospital.

An intervention plan is in place, but Drouin admitted it is difficult due to the mobility of the population.

"Our integration plans includes many different aspects," she said.

In their first news conference of 2021, Mayor Valerie Plante, Drouin and CIUSS spokesperson Sonia Belanger painted a grave picture of the COVID-19 situation on the Island of Montreal.

The progression of incident rates since December has continuously grown, said Drouin, even if the numbers have dropped in the last couple of days.

She reported that there are 311 active outbreaks, including 72 "important" outbreaks with more than 10 cases. 

With 744 people currently hospitalized and that number rising daily, the island's hospitals have had to increase the number of spots for novel coronavirus patients.

"The situation is very worrisome," said Belanger.

Belanger said four hospitals on the island have increased their capacity in order to provide beyond the 1,000 available beds that were originally set aside for COVID-19 patients. The island's hospitals will add over 300 beds, including 43 beds will be added in intensive care wards on the island.

The situation in long-term care homes has also deteriorated, Belanger said, with close to 100 outbreaks.

"It's increasing constantly," she said.

She said teams have been deployed to avoid another drastic situation like Montreal saw in the first wave in the spring.

Quebec reported today that 30,068 of the 107,365 vaccinations have been administered on the Island of Montreal. Drouin reported that health and social services on the island have received 43,000 vaccines to date.

The remaining doses will be administered within five days, and Belanger said the entire priority group of health-care workers and long-term care home residents will receive their first dose.

The Island of Montreal reported 727 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of positive cases since the start of the pandemic to 83,210.

In addition, the island added nine deaths due to the disease Wednesday, bringing that total to 4,001.

Hot spots remain in the Parc Extension, St-Leonard, St-Michel, St-Laurent, and Bordeaux-Cartierville neighbourhoods. 

Plante said people should take advantage of outside activities like cross-country skiing, skating and sledding, but to follow health guidelines. 

"The skating rinks are very popular and the boroughs are working to improve the ice conditions," she said. "Signs will be added near the rinks and sledding hills to remind people of public health rules."