Even with stricter public health measures introduced in Quebec, hospitals could be over capacity with COVID-19 patients as the fifth wave of the pandemic explodes, a new report published Wednesday predicts.

The report from the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) paints a mostly worrying picture of the situation in the province, which has been recording back-to-back record-breaking case counts in recent days.

The INSPQ says that if public health measures are followed, more people get their third dose, and people can get tested, “we cannot exclude an overrun of hospital capacities even if these conditions are met, given the uncertainty concerning the severity of Omicron.”

Public health officials looked at several scenarios, depending on the severity of the Omicron variant (whether it causes less severe illness than the Delta variant, or as severe) and whether following public health measures introduced by Quebec makes a difference.

In its best-case scenario, in which Omicron is less severe than Delta, strong adherence to public health measures and an accelerated pace of immunization with booster shots “could slow the increase in hospitalizations to a level similar to or lower than winter 2021," the institute found.

But it warned that even if sanitary measures are followed, cases and hospitalizations could still rise dramatically.

“The evolution of the COVID-19 epidemic will depend on the characteristics of Omicron, the pace of vaccination with the third dose, health measures, and preventive behaviours of the population,” the report said.

“The peak of cases could be reduced by two to four times with the measures announced on December 20.”

Earlier this week, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that schools, gyms, movie theatres, bars and casinos would be shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Data from the INSPQ already shows that 80 per cent of cases in Quebec are Omicron variant, which is believed to spread faster among the population than the Delta variant, but which appears to cause milder infection in most people who are double vaccinated. 

However, in a worst-case scenario in which Omicron is as severe as Delta, the public health institute predicts we could see around 100 hospitalizations per day, especially given the province's low booster coverage.

“Data from the last few days show that Omicron has spread rapidly in Quebec due to the decrease in basic protection conferred by two doses of the vaccine, the low vaccination coverage with the third dose and the increase in social contacts," said Éric Litvak, the INSPQ’s vice-president of scientific affairs, in the report.

“The greatest caution is required, particularly in terms of social contacts, which remain the main vectors of the virus.”

Quebec Premier François Legault announced more public health restrictions in a news conference Wednesday, reducing gathering limits from 10 to six as of Dec. 26.

As of Wednesday, there were 445 people in hospital, after 76 more people were admitted with COVID-19 symptoms. There were also 12 more poeple admitted to the intensive care unit, but with 12 people also being discharged, it left the total ICU count the same at 88.

The number of hospitalizations in Quebec has been rising steadily, with unvaccinated people far overrepresented overall in the statistics than double-vaccinated people, considering how many fewer unvaccinated people there are than vaccinated.