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Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube speaks during a news conference in Montreal, on Sept. 20, 2020.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s Health Minister is asking people to limit interactions outside their immediate household – including cancelling their Thanksgiving plans – as the province tries to beat back a second COVID-19 wave.

Christian Dube told reporters Thursday in Quebec City that minimizing all non-essential private gatherings in the coming weeks might help bring community spread of the virus under control.

“Please, we’re asking Quebecers, all Quebecers, that you limit your social contact over the next few weeks,” Dube said, raising the tone of the government’s message. “We can break this wave, but we need your support to make this additional sacrifice.”

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The province reported 582 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death linked to the virus on Thursday, with 184 people in hospital and 31 in intensive care.

The province has seen a marked rise in outbreaks, jumping to 291 from 175 in just one week and prompting the plea to avoid family gatherings, parties, barbecues, funerals and weddings.

Dube warned that people should expect higher case numbers in the next few days – the result of activities in recent weeks – but taking steps now could perhaps mean good news in a month.

But in the meantime, the province has put Thanksgiving on the chopping block.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube raised the urgency of the province's COVID-19 messaging, calling on Quebeckers to avoid non-essential gatherings and cancelling their Thanksgiving plans. The Canadian Press

“If I have a choice, I’d prefer cancelling a lot of those (events) in the next few weeks so we can have a nice Christmas,” Dube said, echoing comments made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the day before.

Quebec has been the province hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 69,670 cases and 5,810 deaths.

Dube warned that Quebec could “hit a wall” if efforts aren’t taken to flatten the rising number of infections, explaining that could mean a lockdown similar to what happened in March.

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Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said now was the time to ask people to take extra measures. Arruda said an alarm sounded too early might have been ignored, but there is greater urgency now as the weather cools and people head indoors.

“I think now, it’s clear for us, based on the data, based on the outbreaks going up, that we need to do something,” Arruda said.

Also Thursday, Quebec’s ombudswoman said in her annual report that nothing was done to resolve well-known problems in the long-term care network before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Marie Rinfret’s report noted that while responding perfectly to an unprecedented event such as COVID-19 would have been impossible, the Health Department had been forewarned about the major problems, and shortcomings had been repeatedly pointed out and condemned by her office.

“Understaffing, employee burnout, lack of qualified workers, and dilapidated premises – these problems among others gushed to the surface, if not to say exploded,” Rinfret wrote.

But solutions that could have improved conditions in those facilities were often postponed, she said, calling for immediate action.

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Claude Dussault, the province’s deputy ombudsman, told a news conference Thursday that problems in long-term care staffing had been on the office’s radar for years.

“If you’re very stretched all the time and you don’t have any margin of error, anything new or extraordinary that happens, you’re in trouble,” Dussault said. “That’s something we saw in CHSLDs (long-term care homes) even prior to the COVID-19 crisis.”

The report covers the fiscal year ending March 31, including the first few weeks of pandemic.

Separately, the office is also investigating the Health Department’s response to the crisis, with a final report due out in 2021 and a progress report expected in the coming months.

Health authorities can explain the scientific knowledge about how COVID-19 spreads and how to stop it, and governments can enforce rules on some public activities, Dr. Theresa Tam says, but ultimately each of us is responsible for making decisions to keep ourselves and others from getting sick. The Canadian Press

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