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Quebec reported 16,461 new COVID-19 infections on Friday and 13 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, hours before a curfew is set to begin across the province to reduce transmission and prevent a health system breakdown.

The Health Department said the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by 124 compared to the prior day, to 1,063, after 261 patients entered hospital and 137 people were discharged. It said 151 people were in intensive care, a rise of 13. Officials said 55,446 COVID-19 tests were conducted on Thursday and that 31.7 per cent of them came back positive.

Meanwhile, the health authority in Quebec’s Estrie region said it would shorten the isolation period for some health-care workers who test positive for COVID-19. The health authority said Thursday that all hospital beds in the region, east of Montreal, were occupied and that more than 800 employees were unable to work after testing positive for COVID-19.

As a result, it said it would implement a provincial government directive allowing health authorities to shorten the isolation period for workers to seven days from 10 days.

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“These absences, combined with the epidemiological situation and the sharp increase in hospitalizations linked to COVID-19, doesn’t give the management team any other choice,” Yann Belzile with the health board said in a new release. Belzile said the health board will also continue to postpone some medical procedures.

Premier Francois Legault defended the shortened isolation period at a Thursday news conference, saying it is better to have patients cared for by workers who have tested positive for the virus than for them to not receive care at all.

Legault also announced a ban on private gatherings and ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms. A 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is scheduled to come into effect in Quebec Friday night.

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