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COVID-19: Smaller gatherings after Christmas as cases surge

In response to soaring case counts and an increase in hospitalizations, Premier François Legault appealed to Quebecers’ judgement and common sense during an address Wednesday evening.

Earlier reports had suggested the government was considering “difficult decisions,” including a lock-down of non-essential businesses or the reintroduction of a curfew. In the end, Legault opted for a more measured response, limiting in-person private gatherings to a maximum of six individuals or two family bubbles as of December 26. Legault said gatherings of up to 10 people could take place before and on Christmas Day, but he strongly encouraged Quebecers to scale back their plans for holiday gatherings.

Stores and businesses may remain open but with the 50 per cent capacity limits, while bars, schools, theatres, gyms and spas will all remain closed for the immediate future.

Restaurants, which are already restricted to half capacity with reduced hours, will now be further limited to serving groups with a maximum of six people or members of two families as of Boxing Day.

“We believe the measures in place will keep things under control, but if we see the need to do more, we won’t hesitate,” said Legault, while explaining the controls put in place were designed to keep hospitals from becoming overrun.

Legault confirmed that the number of new cases was rising exponentially, with another new daily record of 9,397 new positive cases announced on Thursday. He acknowledged experts were warning the province will likely see a significant number of hospitalizations in the coming days, with capacity currently sitting around 55 per cent.

Those over the age of 60 are considered more vulnerable to hospitalization, said Legault, who pointed to current statistics showing more than 70 per cent of those admitted to hospital were from within this age range. He suggested those over 60 take extra precautions, while noting that limiting numbers, wearing masks, remaining distanced, and ensuring rooms are well ventilated can help to reduce the risks associated with gatherings.

Legault said the province was working hard to increase the number of vaccines administered per day. Those 65 and older may now register for an appointment for a booster dose, and appointments will be opened to those aged 60 and older as of December 27. He noted the booster shot gives adequate protection against hospitalization from the more transmissible Omicron variant, that is now dominant in Quebec.

The premier had blunt words for those who continue to prefer to remain unvaccinated, saying they were at much greater risk of hospitalization, and of contributing unnecessarily to the strain on the healthcare system. “Stay home,” he directed.

The premier then warned the province had reached its testing capacity, while admitting rapid tests are now in short supply as well. He said only those experiencing symptoms or those who have received a positive result from a rapid test should make appointments to be tested. Legault reiterated that rapid tests were only to be used when experiencing symptoms and should not to be used preventatively.

Local statistics

As of December 22, the Institut National de Santé Publique du Quebec was reporting 91 active cases in the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network (LHN), while cases continue to rise in surrounding regions. There were 381 cases in the Suroît LHN, while the Vaudreuil-Soulanges LHN reported 500 cases. There were 1,090 cases in the Jardins-Roussillon LHN, with at least 134 of those in the MRC des Jardins-de-Napierville.

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