MONTREAL -- LATEST UPDATE HERE: Quebec reverses plan: No holiday gatherings in red zones

Less than two weeks after Quebec government announced it would allow Christmas gatherings, Premier François Legault warned he may need to backtrack on that plan as hospitalizations soar and health-care staff show signs of burnout.

"We also have a situation, it has to be said, where after nine months, we have a lot of people in the-health network who are tired," Legault said in a news conference Tuesday.

It is the province's third Christmas-related update since Nov. 19, when Legault first announced that a four-day period of holiday visiting would be permitted.

A final decision will be made by Dec. 11, he said Tuesday, and the government will be keeping a close eye on all the province's hospitals in the meantime.

Hospitalizations jumped by 26 on Tuesday to a total of 719 across the province, the highest total number since mid-June.

A few hospitals are already alarmingly overloaded with COVID-19 patients, Legault said, including certain facilities in Terrebonne, Longueuil, Chicoutimi and a few other regions.

"In those places we're really almost reaching the limit where we will have to leave aside more activities, which we of course don't want to do," he said.

There are also about 6,500 health-care workers on leave or preventive leave "and it increases every day," he said.

"When we make our decision [on Christmas]," he said, "I will first think of the health staff who, right now, those people are tired."

He said to be prepared for a change of course, though "the decision has not been made."

"I wish to be transparent and tell Quebecers the truth," he said. "Right now we're not going the right way."

Legault also urged people to "be prudent" in their holiday shopping and take steps to avoid creating crowds in stores and malls.

Do your shopping "as quickly as possible," he said. "Try to know what you have to go get, go buy it and leave. You're not there to get into big chats with the neighbours that you haven't seen in two months."

Deputy Premier Genevieve Guilbault is going to provide an update Wednesday, Legault said, about rules around shopping.


Of the roughly 6,500 health-care staff who are currently home from work, about a third of them either have COVID-19 or are being screened for infections, said Legault.

Precisely, 1,310 have confirmed infections, while 1,045 are being tested for potential infections, he said.

Another, bigger group -- just over 4,500 -- are not sick but are home on preventive leave, he said.

That group includes pregnant workers or others whose health risks have been designated as too high for them to be at work right now, Health Minister Christian Dubé said.

That total number is very worrisome, Dubé said, though it's just over half of the leave numbers that decimated Quebec's health-care system in the spring.

"In the worst moment of the first wave I think we were about 12,000," Dubé said.

Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said he's not putting a threshold on the number of hospitalizations that would trigger an automatic cancellation of the Christmas plans or any other move.

That's because, he said, the numbers alone don't convey the toll taken at any given time on hospitals, since that depends on many factors, including the patients' condition.

There could be well over 1,000 patients at any given time with the workload manageable, he said, or "we could be at 900 with a lot of impact on the hospitals."

Over the next 10 days, the province will be tracking specific hospitals that are struggling and will be keeping in close touch about how their staff are faring, the authorities said.

Arruda said that the Christmas plan was always "conditional."