Several regions of Quebec spared the worst of the spring start of the pandemic are facing imminent bar closings and other restrictions on gathering as COVID-19 cases spike.
While Premier François Legault raised the alarm Tuesday on areas experiencing a rapid rise in coronavirus infections, going so far as to say they risk triggering a second wave, he announced only two new measures. Bars across the province are banned from serving food after midnight and people must now wear masks in common areas of seniors' residences.
“The situation is critical and worrisome. We have to react now,” Mr. Legault said during a news conference. “It’s time to think of others.”
The regions placed Tuesday under yellow alert – the last warning before closings begin – covered three-quarters of the province’s 8.5 million residents and included Montreal. But the areas of eastern Quebec with the highest infection rates were under greatest scrutiny amid reports of large parties and disregard for basic rules for dealing with coronavirus.
While Ontario’s resurgence is driven by urban areas such as Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region, in Quebec, regions such as the Lower Saint Lawrence, Chaudières-Appalaches, the Outaouais and Quebec City are driving infection rates.
The province reported 292 new cases and five deaths Tuesday, the highest number since May 31. “It’s certain some areas will be in the orange [next level alert] soon,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s Director of Public Health. A move to the orange alert level would mean bars and indoor restaurant dining would close and the number of people allowed in private gatherings would drop from 10 to six, among other possible measures. No region has been placed on orange alert so far.
Dr. Arruda and Mr. Legault, along with Health Minister Christian Dubé, expressed frustration about people in small-town Quebec with positive tests attending and holding parties and corn roasts. Other spreader events involved 17 people eating in a restaurant and a hairdresser working without proper masking in six seniors' homes. But all across the province, “private parties are our biggest problem,” Mr. Dubé said.
Montreal, hard hit in the spring with 3,476 deaths, mostly among seniors, “has acted relatively well,” Mr. Dubé said. “They lived the worst of it and seem to be more alert to taking appropriate measures.” Mr. Dubé expressed worry that infections may move into the city and spread into nursing homes and other large, densely populated places with vulnerable people.
However, Dr. Arruda added that while cases have steadily risen for about a month, the rate is nowhere near the exponential growth that the province had during 17 days starting March 13, when it went from four new cases to 879.
As in Quebec, Ontario had long lines at testing centres as schools reopened. Some people have reported waiting for hours in line with their children only to be turned away because of overcrowding.
Premier Doug Ford called the long lines “ridiculous,” and said his government was looking to test asymptomatic people at pharmacies to take the burden off of testing centres, but the plan hasn’t yet been finalized.
“I can tell you, we’re all over it,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to move this forward rapidly.”
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government anticipated an increase in the lineups with the return to school, “but perhaps not to this extent.” She said the government is looking to increase lab capacity as well.
Mr. Ford has pleaded with the public to cease large social gatherings and parties. Mr. Ford said he would address the rise in cases in the hardest hit regions of Ontario this week, but did not provide specific details.
While schools are still opening in Ontario, most Quebec schools opened Aug. 27. The Quebec government says the province has had 296 students and 81 staff with COVID-19 in 223 schools. About 154 classes have been sent home for preventative isolation.
Quebec statistics do not show how many outbreaks with multiple cases have taken place, but at least three schools in Quebec City have multiple cases, including one primary school where every student and teacher will be tested after several teachers were infected. Montreal has seven schools with multiple cases. The city’s Director of Public Health Dr. Mylène Drouin said the cases were all under control.
Ontario has so far identified 29 cases in 27 schools.
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