Quebec hospitalizations finally levelling, but it's too soon to ease health rules, says Legault
Quebec is at a tipping point, and it looks like it's tipping in the right direction, Premier François Legault said Thursday, but it's too soon to ease public health rules.
He said he's seeing mostly good news this week, but in the big picture, Quebec's hospital system is still extremely fragile and it can't afford to be nudged at all towards further pressure.
"Finally we're seeing a decrease in the overall number of hospitalizations," Legault said in a press conference Thursday.
"Still, we're at the worst point so far in the pandemic."
In contrast, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced this week that Ontario will begin to ease its rules on Jan. 31, outlining a three-step plan.
Quebec isn't planning the same right now, Legault said. The good news is that if the province stays at its current level -- 3,400 people in hospital with the virus -- it won't need to move to its hospital contingency plan, he said.
"Quality of care won't have to be affected," he said.
Earlier this week, a guide released by health officials outlined how overall care in hospitals could be lessened in order to help the province get through the crisis, if it crossed a certain capacity threshold.
Aside from the high hospitalizations, 12,000 health staff are also absent from work right now, Legault said.
"So we can't permit ourselves to ease the measures... there's a real risk of increasing contagion."
Quebec's 10 p.m. curfew was lifted Monday, but other rules remain in effect, including closures of restaurant dining rooms and a ban on visiting others at home.
Legault said that in particular, the goverment hopes to let kids return to sports soon, but there's no date yet. Nor is the province ready to reopen houses of worship.
LEGAULT SAYS HE'S 'UNDER A LOT OF PRESSURE'
The premier said he’s getting lobbied hard to reduce measures, including by regular citizens calling and writing to his office.
“I’m currently under a lot of pressure to remove measures, but my duty is to be responsible, to protect the lives of Quebecers,” he said.
He also can’t make predictions, he said. If Quebec has indeed reached its peak of hospitalizations, “we don’t know how long it will take before it goes down… the situation will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks,” he said.
He added that while epidemiological predictions for the next couple of weeks look promising, "there's a large margin of error," and that his government prefers to wait for more concrete evidence of progress before announcing a change to the rules.
He asked people for their patience for a while longer. “Lives are at stake,” he said.
When asked about the plan in Ontario, which is epidemiologically similar to Quebec right now, Legault said "I don't want to comment on the Ontario decisions."
But he added that it's not the number of infections or even hospitalizations that's necessarily the most important thing -- it's the capacity to take care of them. In Quebec, for example, 40 per cent of health-care workers are part-time employees, which is different from Ontario's system, and that creates scheduling difficulties.
NEW EFFORTS ON VACCINES
One major effort by the province right now is to continue the vaccine campaign at full speed, and to invest time into finding and convincing those who are unvaccinated to reconsider -- especially those who may not follow the news or may not have gotten all the information originally because of language barriers.
A new door-to-door effort will allow public health workers to try to speak directly to people in this group, though few details were released Thursday.
The province is also going to crack down on fake COVID-19 vaccine passports, making sure they're “revoked,” said Health Minister Christian Dubé. There's an ongoing anti-corruption probe into these alleged fraud schemes.
- READ MORE: Quebec will 'revoke' fake vaccine passports, health minister says amid anti-corruption probe
“The people who, unfortunately, did this … it’s very dangerous what they’ve done; to let unvaccinated people go to places that were reserved for vaccinated people,” said Dubé.
LEARNING TO LIVE WITH THE VIRUS
Legault and Dubé said that the long-term priority, in order to return to a more stable life across the province, is to hire a new cohort of staff in the health system.
"If we have, or when we have, some latitude in our health-care network, well, we can tolerate a certain percentage of hospitalizations and a return to a life that is a bit more normal," Legault said.
"But currently, we are pushed up against a wall in our hospitals so we don't have that latitude."
The need spans hospitals, long-term care homes and all other parts of the health network, and it can be hard to hire in a permanent way for many of those jobs, he said -- for example, those with frequent nighttime shifts.
"We can convince people to work at night overnight, in positions that are harder to fill, so that eventually we can live more normally with the virus," he said.
Aside from recruiting drives, the province hopes that some recent changes to collective agreements will help, Legault said, along with the monetary incentives the province handed out to retain current workers and to convince part-timers to work more hours.
Unfortunately, the province seems a long way from having the kind of permanent "wiggle room" in staffing that it really needs, he said, reminding reporters that while 12,000 workers are currently off, a few weeks ago it was 20,000.
"It's going to take a long time in Quebec before we can live with the virus," he said.
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