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Quebec opts for quiet, reflective day to mark 2nd anniversary of COVID-19 pandemic


On the second anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Quebec, Premier Francois Legault said Friday the government did what it could to save as many lives as possible.

"This day is dedicated to their memory and to their loved ones who continue to suffer from their absence," Legault wrote in an open letter published in various media to mark the national day of remembrance for the victims of COVID-19.

"It is for them that Quebecers will remember on March 11."

Unlike last year, the Legault government did not hold a ceremony to honour the memory of Quebecers who have succumbed to the disease since 2020. As of Friday, 14,154 residents had died as a result of the novel coronavirus.

Last year's inaugural event brought together several dignitaries and representatives of bereaved families as part of an elaborate ceremony. This year, the government said it would lower the Quebec flag at half-mast at the national assembly and at other provincial offices to mark the day. Legault did not plan public events on Friday.

Quebec has been the hardest hit of any province in the country by COVID-19, accounting for 38 per cent of all deaths despite having less than a quarter of Canada's population.

In his open letter, Legault wrote that he will remember those initial weeks, the daily press briefings announcing restrictions and the "long days and nights spent wondering if we were making the right decisions."

"We did what we had to do to save as many lives as possible. I remember that Quebecers immediately grasped the seriousness of the situation and that Quebec reacted admirably in the face of danger."

Legault wrote that after a rapid rise in cases and deaths during the first wave of the pandemic, the province moved to bolster its health-care system by adding staff while keeping schools open for kids.

"We carried out one of the most effective vaccination campaigns in the world," he added, noting that most restrictions will be withdrawn by the weekend.

The anniversary, Legault wrote, reminds him of "the strength of our people and of the enormous sacrifices that we have had to make. It also brings to mind all those who left us too soon."

"The virus attacked the most vulnerable among us, especially our seniors, who built Quebec," Legault wrote. "Together, we managed to save thousands of lives, but we also lost too many mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers. We lost brothers, sisters, and friends."

However, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade found it difficult to accept the government's decision to forgo a ceremony this year, noting the province added 4,000 deaths since last March and those people should also be remembered. She accused Legault's Coalition Avenir Quebec government of trying to distance itself from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the Opposition Liberals reiterated their call for a public inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic. The party has promised to hold an inquiry if it wins the provincial election later this year.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 13 more COVID-19 deaths and a 36-patient drop in hospitalizations on Friday. The Health Department said there were 1,126 patients in hospital with the disease, after 68 people were admitted in the past 24 hours and 104 were discharged. There were 65 patients are listed in intensive care, a decline of three.

Earlier in the day, Quebec announced it was putting an end to COVID-19 bonuses for health-care staff as of April 16. Some bonuses, including the $12,000 to $18,000 offered to entice nurses to return to the network full time, will remain.

In a statement, the Health Department said $5.3 billion was paid out in various bonuses and other financial incentives during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure there was enough staff to serve the population.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2022.

-- with files from Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal. Top Stories

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