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The next two weeks are going to be difficult for Quebec’s emergency rooms, which are being hit by a “perfect storm” of problems amid a sixth wave of COVID-19, says the head of a medical association in the province.

About 13,000 health care workers are absent due to COVID-19 at a time when emergency room visits are exploding, said Dr. Gilbert Boucher, president of the province’s emergency medicine doctors association, called Association des specialistes en medecine d’urgence du Quebec.

“For two or three weeks now, there has been a lot more viruses,” Dr. Boucher said Thursday in an interview. “(Gastroenteritis) has been around for four to six weeks, the influenza is hitting us a little bit, but there are a lot of little viruses right now.

“It’s kind of a perfect storm, we haven’t seen those volumes of patients for almost two years.”

Dr. Boucher said the number of emergency room visits started to increase rapidly over the past 10 days. “It’s very difficult and the next two weeks are going to be fairly tough.”

The impact of the nearly 13,000 missing staff is hitting all hospital departments — there are fewer doctors, nurses and beds, he said. The consequences of labour shortages trickle down to emergency departments because patients who shouldn’t be there have nowhere else to go.

Every morning for the past week, Dr. Boucher said, 60 per cent of Montreal emergency room beds are occupied by patients who need to be admitted elsewhere in the hospital.

Quebec reported 26 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus on Thursday and a 94-patient jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Health authorities said there were 2,154 people in hospital with the disease after 282 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 188 were discharged. There were 96 patients listed in intensive care, an increase of 13 patients.

Health officials reported 3,190 new infections confirmed by PCR testing, adding that 16.5 per cent of tests conducted Wednesday were positive.

Health Minister Christian Dube told reporters in Quebec City Thursday morning the system is under pressure but “is holding.”

He said 85 per cent of scheduled operations are being conducted, adding that despite the rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the health network hasn’t started significantly delaying surgeries.

“The network is keeping the lights on, but given that we are going to maybe have more impact from influenza, the next two weeks are going to be critical,” Mr. Dube said.

Ahead of the Easter long weekend, the health minister called on people to be prudent and avoid taking unnecessary risks that could end up requiring a visit to an overfilled ER.

Dr. Boucher said about 15 per cent of patients who are arriving at emergency rooms go home without seeing a doctor. In some hospitals, family members are being asked to leave because the waiting rooms are too full.

Many people have been coming in with chronic issues that have been lingering and they are seeking another opinion, Dr. Boucher said, adding that now is not the time for those types of visits.

“Right now, every day, one out of six patients goes back home without seeing a doctor, so if you don’t need to come for the next few weeks, that would be greatly appreciated,” Dr. Boucher said. People with serious issues like chest pains or shortness of breath should continue to immediately seek ER help, he added.

Meanwhile, Quebec’s Health Department said it was investigating after a tweet on Thursday from one of its accounts included a link to a pornographic website. The tweet was deleted after officials became aware.

“Due to a situation beyond our control, today’s dashboard link has been diverted to a non-recommendable site,” spokesman Robert Maranda said in an email.

“Investigations are currently underway to find out exactly what happened.”

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