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Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, at the legislature in Quebec City, Dec. 9, 2020.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec Premier François Legault said Wednesday he has asked the province’s police forces to issue more tickets to people violating COVID-19 regulations as the number of new cases in the province remains high.

Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, the premier said he wants to “send a clear message” to what he described as a small minority of Quebeckers who are putting the rest of the public’s health at risk.

“We cannot allow a minority of people to put the majority at risk,” he said.

While Legault acknowledged that police in Quebec have issued thousands of tickets since the end of November, he said he wanted to “crank the number” of tickets up.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Quebec issued more tickets than any other province for violations of COVID-19 regulations, according to a report released by researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa.

The province is considering further restrictions, Legault said, but nothing has been decided yet.

Testifying before a legislature committee on Wednesday afternoon, public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said that if the rules currently in place were being followed, there would be no need for stricter measures.

Meanwhile, vaccinations against COVID-19 are scheduled to start at two long-term care homes in the province on Monday, Health Minister Christian Dube said.

While vaccine manufacturer Pfizer has asked Canadian governments not to move boxes of vaccine once they are received, Dube told reporters that a number of the province’s 20 vaccine distribution sites are located in long-term care homes, allowing it to continue with its plan to begin vaccination at those facilities.

The vaccine must be stored at below -70 C. Dube said he hopes that once the province has demonstrated that it can handle the vaccine properly, Pfizer will allow for movement of the boxes.

The campaign will first target residents of long-term care homes and private seniors residences, as well as health-care workers. Quebec expects to receive 1.3 million doses of the vaccine before March 31, enough to vaccinate 650,000 people.

Legault said that if one-third of those doses are received between now and January, all residents of long-term care homes and seniors residences, as well as the medical staff in those facilities, could be vaccinated by the end of that month.

That would improve the situation in the province significantly, he said, noting that 70 per cent of those who have died from COVID-19 in Quebec lived in care homes and seniors residences. Quebec expects to have the 20 vaccine distribution facilities ready by Dec. 21.

While Legault said he hopes to be able to talk about lifting existing restrictions in January, once the vaccination campaign is under way, he warned there are still difficult weeks ahead.

Quebec reported 1,728 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday as well as 37 additional deaths. The province said hospitalizations increased by nine to 844, and the number of people in intensive care increased by seven, to 121.

“The increase in hospitalizations is putting people on hold for other treatments, surgeries,” Legault said. “This could affect anybody, not just those vulnerable to COVID.”

One death that was previously attributed to COVID-19 was withdrawn from the total, for a sum of 7,349 deaths and 156,468 confirmed cases in Quebec since the pandemic began.

In his testimony before the legislature committee, Arruda said the Quebec government’s decision to order restaurants to close in the province’s “red zones” was not based directly on a recommendation by public health.

Dr. Richard Masse, one of Arruda’s top advisers, told the committee that public health had recommended allowing members of the same family to continue going to restaurants together, but the government went further and prohibited all in-restaurant dining.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

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