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Quebec Premier Francois Legault answers a question during a news conference in Victoria, on July 12.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are nearing a plateau, the province’s public health director said this week ahead of the launch of a vaccination campaign for children under the age of five.

Dr. Luc Boileau said cases and hospitalizations are still rising – but more slowly than at the start of the wave.

“The growth is slower, so we’re heading toward a plateau,” he told a news conference in Montreal.

Boileau also announced that the province will begin offering the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 for children between the ages of six months and five years at medical clinics and vaccine centres as of next week.

He said kids will be offered a dose about a quarter of the size of that given to adults, which provides a “very good” immune response after two doses. Most won’t need a third dose, except those who are immunocompromised, he added.

Dr. Nicholas Brousseau, a doctor with the province’s public health institute, said that while children overall have a low risk of falling seriously ill with COVID-19, kids in the age group targeted by the upcoming campaign are more at risk than children who are slightly older.

More than 100 young children were hospitalized because of COVID-19 complications during the last two waves, Brousseau said. While it’s the choice of parents whether to vaccinate their children, “I think the best choice is to vaccinate,” he said.

Boileau said the rise in cases is caused by the BA.5 variant, which is “not the same virus as we had in previous years.”

“At the beginning of COVID, a person could contaminate one, two, three people,” he said.

“Today, a person who is positive and who has a normal social life can infect 12, 15, 16,” he said, adding that many people don’t seem to realize they can spread the disease for 10 days after infection.

Boileau said officials all over the world were surprised to see a new wave arrive so soon after previous ones. During the current spike in infections – Quebec’s first summer wave – cases seem to have risen more slowly than in previous cycles, he said, but may also not descend as quickly.

On Friday, the province reported a drop in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, even as 15 more deaths linked to the disease are being added to the provincial tally.

The Health Department says there are 2,088 people hospitalized with the disease, 22 fewer than one day prior. There are 54 people in intensive care, a drop of five.

This week, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said public health officials are not recommending new COVID-19 restrictions despite high levels of community transmission across the province.

Echoing the premier, Boileau urged people to take precautions such as handwashing. He also recommended a COVID-19 booster for those who haven’t contracted the virus in the past few months and for those whose last dose was more than five or six months ago. But he said public health has no plans to reimpose measures such as mask mandates – despite indications that large gatherings, such as last week’s 2022 Festival d’ete de Quebec, in Quebec City, have led to increased transmission.

Boileau said cases in Quebec City went up after the event and may have contributed to the infection of health-care workers in the region.

He urged older, vulnerable people who might attend the Pope’s visit to Quebec City next week to consider taking precautions such as seeking a booster and wearing a mask.

Legault told reporters that although COVID-19 hospitalizations have surpassed 2,100, there are fewer patients in hospital with the disease compared with previous waves.

Legault suggested Quebecers nonetheless avoid visiting the province’s “overloaded” emergency rooms except for serious medical problems, because many health-care workers are off sick with COVID-19 or on vacation.

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