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People wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, on Jan. 31, 2021.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebec is making more use of rapid COVID-19 tests but laboratory tests will remain the standard across the province, Health Department officials said Monday.

“We do need to be precautious,” Dr. Isabelle Goupil-Sormany, co-chair of a committee that reviewed rapid tests for the provincial government, told reporters Monday during a technical briefing. “We want to push lab testing first, because they’re better, they’re more accurate.”

As of Jan. 29, Quebec had conducted 18,473 rapid tests – lower than the average daily number of laboratory tests conducted across the province. The government has faced criticism from opposition parties who have said they don’t understand why the province waited months to start using the technology.

At the briefing – which was open to members of the opposition – Marie-Eve Bedard, an assistant deputy minister in the Health Department, defended the province’s decision to move cautiously. She said the province’s expert committee, which submitted its report on rapid tests Jan. 11, was trying to determine the best way to use the tests.

Bedard said Quebec has the capacity to conduct 40,000 laboratory tests a day and 83 per cent of patients get results within 24 hours. And while the rapid tests give faster results, they are less efficient than laboratory tests, known by the acronym “PCR,” for polymerase chain reaction. A popular rapid test brand called ID NOW, for instance, can provide a result in 15 minutes but can only do four tests an hour.

The ID NOW tests are being used in two centres in eastern Montreal and officials said Monday they planned to make more use of them in mobile clinics in areas of the city with high infections. Officials said they also planned to use the ID NOW tests in schools with COVID-19 outbreaks and at long-term care centres, adding that in time, workplaces will be using them as well.

Health officials reported 890 new cases Monday – the first time since early November that Quebec has reported fewer than 1,000 daily new cases – and 32 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including 14 that they said occurred in the past 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose by eight, to 1,144, and 183 people were in intensive care, a drop of eight. Officials said 796 doses of vaccine were administered Sunday, for a total of 239,023.

Police forces across Quebec issued 1,084 tickets between Jan. 25 and Jan. 31 for alleged violations of the provincewide curfew, the public security minister said Monday on Twitter. A similar number of tickets had been given the week before.

The 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is scheduled to remain in effect until Feb. 8. Quebec Premier Francois Legault, however, has signalled that the health order will be extended, particularly in the Montreal area. But Legault has also suggested he was ready to lift some restrictions on businesses, given the steady reduction in new daily cases and hospitalizations.

He is scheduled to hold a news conference Tuesday evening to announce changes to the provincewide lockdown and curfew.

Quebec’s public health institute reported 1,435 more recoveries Monday, bringing the total number of people recovered from the disease to 240,083. There are 13,564 active reported cases in the province. Quebec has reported a total of 263,473 cases of COVID-19 and 9,826 deaths linked to the virus.

The large number of COVID-19 infections in some places makes it more likely for new variants of the virus to emerge. Science Reporter Ivan Semeniuk explains how vaccines may not be as effective against these new strains, making it a race to control and track the spread of variants before they become a dangerous new outbreak.

The Globe and Mail

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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