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A woman wears a face mask as she walks by a COVID-19 rapid testing business in Montreal on Sept. 12.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

As Montreal continued to see an increase of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, health authorities said Wednesday they are looking into opening more testing clinics and deploying rapid testing in specific circumstances.

Montreal public-health director Mylène Drouin told reporters officials are looking into different ways to increase testing capacity to avoid what she called unreasonably long wait times outside COVID-19 testing centres in the city.

“We are working on it,” Dr. Drouin said. “We are conscious that we do not want to make the population wait too long.”

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For Maude Laberge, a professor at Laval University and a researcher in population health, the long lineups illustrate the need to offer rapid testing across the province.

“Rapid testing should be available in pharmacies the same way pregnancy tests are available,” Prof. Laberge said in an interview Wednesday. “A recent study showed two-thirds of Quebecers with symptoms don’t go get tested, so I think if some tests were accessible easily, that might be an alternative for people who don’t want to wait in line.”

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She said the lines outside testing centres might come as a surprise for those who thought vaccination would provide a way out of the pandemic.

“The government sold the idea that the vaccination would get us out of the pandemic ... which is what many people thought as well before the Delta variant,” Prof. Laberge said. “We’d like to believe vaccines are 100 per cent effective but most vaccines are not 100 per cent effective.”

Earlier this week, Quebec started to roll out rapid COVID-19 testing in the province’s elementary schools, but the program to deploy the tests faced criticism from opposition parties and school administrators. Health Minister Christian Dubé announced on Tuesday that Daniel Pare, the head of the province’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, was taking over the program to administer the tests in schools.

“I hope that one day we use rapid testing in Canada, in Quebec, the same way they do in Germany or France, where people can just get these rapid tests all the time, they cost nothing to buy, people can do it themselves,” Prof. Laberge said. “It would simplify and would reduce the need for testing centres.”

At the Montreal COVID-19 briefing, the head of the health board for south-central Montreal, Sonia Bélanger said more than 20 testing clinics are open on the island, with an average of 6,000 tests done each day. She said the long waits outside clinics had mostly been reported in Montreal East, which also reported the highest positivity rate.

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Health authorities said Montreal is seeing an average of 250 new cases a day, with more than 80 per cent of them associated with the highly contagious Delta variant. The city reported more than 136 outbreaks on Wednesday, including 61 in workplaces, 28 in schools, 24 in daycare centres and 14 in health care facilities.

Ms. Bélanger said the impact of the fourth wave is being felt in hospitals. She said 70 people in Montreal are hospitalized because of COVID-19, with 43 of them in intensive care units.

“The hospitalization curve continues to rise,” she said. “The situation in emergency rooms is fragile. Unfortunately, unvaccinated people are the ones who risk overloading the health network over the next few weeks.”

Over 84 per cent of eligible Montrealers are now adequately vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Quebeckers who do not comply with the province’s vaccine passport system for non-essential services such as restaurants, bars, gyms and theatres now risk fines after a two-week grace period ended on Wednesday.

Customers, organizers and business owners can be fined between $1,000 and $6,000 if unvaccinated people are caught using or offering a service where proof of vaccination is required. The passport vaccine system was implemented on Sept. 1.

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Provincewide, there were 785 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and one additional death linked to the novel coronavirus. The Health Department said the number of hospitalizations linked to the disease rose by 20 from a day earlier, to 250, with 85 people in intensive care, a rise of seven.

Of the most recent infections, the province said 577 were among unvaccinated people or those who had received only one dose less than 14 days ago. The province said it administered 14,896 doses of vaccine within the previous 24 hours.

About 88.5 per cent of Quebec residents 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 83.5 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

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