MONTREAL -- In a repeat of last spring, Montreal hospitals are starting to cut back on surgeries under the strain of COVID-19.

Premier Francois Legault says the most urgent surgeries are still being done, but this new round of cancellations is going to further lengthen a wait list that was already drastically worsened earlier this year.

For some types of procedures, the number of Quebecers waiting for surgeries had already tripled compared to this time last year.

At the worst point of this year, there was a backlog of 130,000 people waiting for surgeries. While hospitals tried to get through as many as possible over the last few months, the wait times are substantial.

In the latest data, CTV found that 58,000 Quebecers had already waited more than six months for day surgeries for knees, cataracts and hips.

This time last year, that number was only 14,000.

Hospitals are also likely to suspend outpatient clinics and to move patients to telemedicine evaluations when possible.

On Monday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said that Quebec is "cancelling quite a big number of appointments and surgeries," adding that it’s “unfortunate.”

On Tuesday, Legault said he wanted to reassure people that “urgent” procedures will go ahead.

“There will be no delay for urgent activities,” he said, giving cancer surgeries as an example.

“I want to reassure the population,” Legault said, noting he realizes that people without urgent surgeries are still “stressed” to hear their wait time may be lengthened.

"Unfortunately, it’s a balance right now,” he said. “We have to make sure we have the beds available to treat a person with COVID-19, especially if they are old, they are really at risk of dying."

The number of Quebecers being treated in hospital for the disease has risen quickly over the last couple of weeks, hitting 700 last week and 800 this week. The total now stands at 835 people.

How long the delays will last will depend largely on the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations from here.


On Monday, doctors, academics and public health experts called on the province to bring in a temporary COVID-19 lockdown this month to try to stem the spread of the virus. Legault said nothing is planned for now, but the situation is rapidly evolving.

"We already have measures," Legault said. "Do we have to add measures, for example, in the retail business? We don't exclude that, but for now we don't have a scenario to start that right now."

The province already introduced limits for the number of shoppers allowed in stores and malls last week.

Legault is urging companies to allow employees to work from home, noting that when the government announced its now-cancelled holiday gathering plan, many companies agreed to allow for remote work between Dec. 17 and Jan 4.

Also, elementary and high schools will switch to distance learning next week, as previously announced.

Nearly 65 per cent of active outbreaks in the province are in schools or the workplace, with elder care homes also a problem area.

--With files from The Canadian Press