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The current wave of COVID-19 in Quebec is expected to continue for around two more weeks and shouldn’t overwhelm hospitals, the province’s interim public health director said Friday.

Projections indicate the situation in hospitals won’t be as bad as in January, when more than 3,400 patients were hospitalized with the disease, which led to lockdowns, a curfew and delayed surgeries, Dr. Luc Boileau told reporters.

“We do not have any projections that would lead us to have the number of hospitalizations as high as we experienced in January,” he said. “Nothing is impossible, but our projections show instead that the wave will continue across Quebec for probably two weeks.”

However, with more than 1,600 people in hospital with COVID-19 and at least 13,000 health-care workers absent due to the novel coronavirus, Dr. Boileau said the situation will be particularly tough for health-care centres and long-term care homes in regions of the province with lower capacity than the big cities.

“We expect it to still be difficult for the next few days, or a couple of weeks,” he said, adding that he’s “quite confident” the system will hold “and be able to sustain the services that are needed.”

Dr. Jean Longtin, a medical microbiologist at the Health Department, said that while the current wave is affecting Quebecers of all ages – unlike the fifth wave in January, when younger people were more likely to be infected – the high number of older people with booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines is expected to lead to fewer hospitalizations compared with the winter.

“Vaccine uptake in the older population is very, very good,” Dr. Longtin told reporters. “Even though they can be infected, if they are vaccinated with a third shot and the fourth shot now, this will protect them against severe disease and hospitalization.”

Dr. Boileau said he believes the indoor mask mandate can be lifted at the end of the month. Earlier this week, Dr. Boileau recommended the government extend the order by two weeks. It applies to all indoor public places and had been set to end on April 15.

“The intention is really to return to as much of a normal context as possible, but we don’t decide that, it’s the contagion that will decide that; it’s the actions taken by everyone,” he said. “It’s also the effect of the virus itself, because it has already infected a lot of people in Quebec and continues to do so. Once you’ve been infected, the probability of being reinfected right away is low.”

Meanwhile, health officials reported 30 more deaths due to COVID-19 Friday and a 55-patient rise in the number of hospitalizations linked to the disease. The Health Department said there were 1,637 patients in hospital after 230 people were admitted in the previous 24 hours and 175 people were discharged. The number of people in intensive care declined by two, to 62.

The province reported another 3,572 cases confirmed by PCR testing, which is limited to certain groups, and officials said another 35,199 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in the previous 24 hours.

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