MONTREAL -- COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are no longer dropping across Quebec as they did in January, according to a new report that says the risk of dangerous variants is making it difficult to predict future trends.

The projections released Thursday by the Quebec government health and social services institute found that hospitalizations have now stabilized after a sustained drop earlier in 2021.

The Institut national d'excellence en sante et en services sociaux report suggests that hospitalizations will likely remain stable for the next three to four weeks.

"Beyond this period, the evolution of this trend could be different with an increasing presence of more contagious or more virulent variants," the report says.

The report, which was written Feb. 28 but released Thursday, notes that the COVID-19 pandemic in the province is largely concentrated in Montreal and the surrounding regions, where 85 per cent or more of Quebec's new cases and hospitalizations originate.

On Wednesday, Premier Francois Legault announced that restrictions would be eased in much of the province but maintained in Montreal and the surrounding regions, including Laval and the South Shore.

At the same news conference, Health Minister Christian Dube said that with the risk of variants, "we really have two different regions: greater Montreal and the rest of Quebec."

Dube said Wednesday that by mid-April, the province could find itself with 2,000 to 3,000 cases a day and hospitalizations levels similar to those in January.

Despite the risk posed by variants, the report released Thursday suggested that the province's hospitals remain in relatively good shape for the coming weeks.

It noted that about a third of the regular beds and half the intensive care beds in the Montreal region designated for COVID-19 patients are currently occupied, and that hospital capacity is not expected to be surpassed in the next three weeks.

Elsewhere in the province, only 14 per cent of regular beds and eight per cent of intensive care beds are occupied.

The report found that while its past projections have generally been accurate, they become less precise when looking more than three weeks in advance.

While the number of confirmed variant cases across the province remained stable at 137 on Thursday, the number of presumptive cases rose to 1,353, an increase of 133.

The Quebec government reported 707 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 20 additional deaths due to the pandemic.

Hospitalizations have gone up slightly in the province for four of the past five days. On Thursday, they increased by eight to 626, although the number of people in intensive care decline by five to 115.

The province administered 16,619 doses of vaccine Wednesday, for a total of 490,504.

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021