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A row of ambulances is seen outside a hospital in Montreal, on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Unlike Ontario, Quebec cannot begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions because the situation in the province’s hospitals remains too fragile, Premier François Legault said Thursday.

“The situation will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks. I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said. “We are currently at the limit in our hospitals.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Thursday a phased reopening plan because he said public health indicators were starting to show signs of improvement. But despite a slight drop in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Quebec, Legault said his province cannot reopen its restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues.

Quebec’s Health Department reported Thursday the first drop in COVID-19 patients in the province since Dec. 16. It said that 3,411 people were in hospital with the disease – 14 fewer than the day before – after 352 patients were admitted and 366 were discharged.

It said 285 people were in intensive care, unchanged from the day before.

Legault said that because of the drop in patients, the contingency plan to reduce the quality of care in hospitals likely won’t have to be used.

Quebec’s hospitals should continue to see pressure ease, according to projections from a Quebec government health-care research institute. The Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux said Thursday it expected around 200 new admissions a day by the end of January. Quebec has been recording between 296 and 470 new COVID-19 hospitalizations a day for the past week.

The overall number of people in hospital outside of intensive care is expected to drop slightly over the next two weeks, to around 3,000 people, the institute said in a new release, adding that it expected the number of people in intensive care to “stabilize” at around 300 people.

However, the institute said its modelling can’t predict sudden changes in trends and its projections “do not take into account recent changes to the health measures and the effects of the return to school.”

The Health Department reported 98 additional deaths linked to the disease Thursday, the highest number of deaths reported in a single day since May 2020. It did not say how many of those deaths took place within the previous 24 hours.

Authorities said 6,528 new COVID-19 cases were detected in the previous 24 hours and 12 per cent of tests came back positive. However, they warned the numbers provided a partial picture because testing is restricted to certain higher-risk groups.

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