Skip to main content

The region consisting of Quebec’s Gaspe peninsula and the Iles-de-la-Madeleine has the highest COVID-19 transmission rate in the province, and health officials say that’s because the areas were relatively spared by last winter’s Omicron wave.

Transmission is highest in the touristic areas of Rocher-Perce and Iles-de-la-Madeleine, which have rates higher 1,300 cases per 100,000 people. Montreal, by contrast, which was hit hard by the Omicron wave in December and January, has about 169.5 active cases per 100,000 people.

Reported cases have almost tripled in the region in one month, according to the province’s public health institute. Local public health director Dr. Yv Bonnier-Viger says the situation in Gaspesie-Iles-de-la-Madeleine can be explained by the fact the Omicron mutation of the novel coronavirus is relatively new to the region.

“We know the BA.2 is in Quebec now,” he said in an interview Tuesday, about the subvariant of Omicron, “so I think we provided a fertile ground for the variant.”

And while the transmission rate is high, Bonnier-Viger said it represents a fraction of the reality. “We only test 10 per cent of people with PCR tests right now.”

He said he supports the decision to lift many restrictions, including the vaccine passport system, which ended in mid-March. But he said now is not the time to remove the mask mandate — the last major public health order remaining in the province. Quebec health officials have said mandatory masking will end mid-April at the latest, except on public transportation.

“It’s been proven to be an effective measure,” Bonnier-Viger said of masking. “We’ll see where we’ll be in mid-April but if that was next week, for sure we should not remove it.”

The situation is worrying but under control, he said, as COVID-19-related hospitalizations remain low. There were 17 COVID-19 patients in the region’s hospitals on Tuesday, an increase of two in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 20 more deaths on Tuesday attributed to COVID-19 and a 38-patient increase in hospitalizations. Health authorities said 1,153 people were hospitalized with the disease after 135 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 97 left hospital. There were 63 people listed in intensive care, an increase of 10 cases.

The Health Department said it registered 2,171 new COVID-19 cases based on PCR testing, which is limited to certain high-risk groups. It said 1,347 new positive cases were also declared by the public via a self-reporting online platform.

Authorities said they administered 4,287 vaccine doses on Monday and 53 per cent of Quebecers aged five and older have received a third dose.

Quebecers over the age of 80, those who live in high-risk settings such as seniors homes and long-term care homes, and immunocompromised people became eligible Tuesday for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.