MONTREAL -- With four new deaths due to COVID-19 confirmed on Saturday the Quebec government banned all public gatherings.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the provincial government would extended the current health emergency decree until March 29 as new cases continue to be confirmed.

On Saturday, the total number of confirmed cases in Quebec reached 181, with five deaths. Included in those cases are 10 people currently hospitalized in intensive care.

The ban on public gatherings include all those held in an indoor setting. For those held outdoors, an exception will be made in cases where a minimum distance of two meters is maintained between all attendees.

The ban also applies to all types of gatherings with the exception of workplaces that are not subject to a suspension from the government of Quebec or are in public spaces where a service or good can be obtained.  

Hospital occupancy low

Quebec's emergency rooms are unusually empty as they prepare for the number of cases requiring hospitalization to rise, said Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann. 

McCann said as of Saturday, the average occupancy rate stood at 66 per cent, a stark contract to times in the recent past when some hospitals have reported rates in excess of 150 per cent.

She said 4,600 beds have been released into the healthcare network in anticipation of a rapid increase of hospitalizations.