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Quebec Premier Francois Legault during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Dec. 3, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

As Quebec deals with rising COVID-19 cases and increased pressure on its health-care system, Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday his government isn’t ruling out implementing further restrictions.

Legault told reporters the province is continuing to discuss the situation daily with public health officials, but no firm decisions have been made on stronger lockdown measures.

“We follow the situation every day,” Legault said. “We don’t exclude any additional measures, but I don’t want to speculate on what those measures could be.”

The province reported 1,564 new COVID-19 cases and 36 additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus Tuesday. A dozen of those deaths occurred in the past 24 hours while 22 occurred in the first six days of December, according to the province’s Health Department.

Hospitalizations increased by 17 to reach 835, with nine more patients in intensive care for a total of 114. There are currently 14,853 active COVID-19 cases in the province.

The province’s health minister confirmed this week that hospitals have been scaling back surgeries and appointments deemed non-essential to ensure there is enough capacity to deal with COVID-19 cases.

The health network had been trying to clear a backlog of procedures following the first wave of COVID-19, but Legault said the government has no choice.

“I want to reassure all urgent activities will be done as planned,” Legault said. “Unfortunately it’s a balance right now, 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.”

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

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, and he urged Quebecers to respect public health measures.

“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 and cancelled a plan to allow multi-household gatherings of up to 10 people around Christmas.

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.

Since Oct. 1, Montreal and Quebec City have been under the red COVID-19 alert level with bars, restaurant dining, entertainment venues and gyms shut until at least Jan. 11. Other regions have since been added to the red zone.

Also Tuesday, the province’s health minister announced the assistant deputy minister named to head its COVID-19 vaccination campaign is being replaced due to health reasons.

Jerome Gagnon will be replaced by Daniel Pare, head of the regional health authority in Chaudiere-Appalaches, but Health Minister Christian Dube says it won’t impact the rollout of the vaccine. Dube suggested Monday that could begin as early as next week if the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in Canada.

Legault said later Tuesday that Gagnon’s leave was not related to COVID-19.

Quebec has reported 154,740 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 7,313 deaths and 132,573 recoveries since the beginning of the pandemic.

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