MONTREAL -- After Quebec City surpassed Montreal in new COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row and an announcement of a prolonged lockdown in the region, officials in the capital say the numbers are expected to get higher and variants are to blame.

“We don’t know how it will evolve in the coming days. Will it plateau, will there be an increase? We don’t know. It’s not at all improbable that what will follow is an increase,” said Dr. Andre Dontigny, Director of Public Health for the CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale at a Friday morning press conference.

The health authority announced a new screening centre will open up on Monday at Jeffrey Hale hospital. The facility’s emergency room was turned into a COVID-19 evaluation clinic last summer and will soon be re-open by appointment only from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. six days a week.

Dontigny said the explosion of cases in the region is blamed on the U.K. varant of the coronavirus, also known as B.1.1.7, which accounts for about 70 per cent of cases in Quebec City.

Another factor that has health public health officials worried is the rate at which variants are spreading. The rate of variants per 100,000 people is at 419.1 in Quebec, more than double the rate in Montreal (215.7). 

As of Friday, Quebec City had the second highest number of variants in the province at 3,186, just under Montreal's 4,483. 

Even though Quebec City's population is much smaller than that of Montreal, the rate of vairants is more than double , even though its population is 

“It will surely increase,” he said. “That’s the new pandemic in a certain way.”

The rise in cases also means hospitals are getting filled with patients fighting the virus. He said hospitalizations have nearly doubled since last week, with approximately 60 Quebec City residents in care. 

On Friday, Quebec City reported 449 new cases of the virus, a new record for the city since the start of the pandemic. It also surpassed Montreal in new cases yesterday as well when it announced 436 new cases. Montreal reported 392 new cases Friday and 370 on Thursday.

Dontigny’s message to the public, now under lockdown until April 18, was to stay home.

“As much as you can as possible as you can stay home. Don’t gather with other people (indoors). If you are with other people, put all the preventive measures and do that outside,” he said.

Lévis, Beauce, and Gatineau, which have been reporting record highs of COVID-19 cases, are also under the extended lockdown, as are five cities in the Beauce area, which were added to the list on Monday.

Schools and non-essential businesses are closed in regions under lockdown.

"When we say that it's in the community, it's everywhere and it's in all age groups" in those cities, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday announcing new measures.

"The situation is serious in these places."

On Thursday, the premier announced the province is bringing the curfew in Montreal and Laval back to 8 p.m. "until further notice."