Quebec likely heading toward 6th wave, says public health director

Quebec’s interim public health director said all signs point to Quebec heading toward a sixth wave of COVID-19.  

At a news conference Sunday, Dr. Luc Boileau came short of confirming another pandemic wave of infections, but said the spike in cases in recent weeks driven by the Omicron variant BA.2 suggests one is imminent.

Boileau said he would wait up to a couple of weeks to hear from Quebec’s institute of public health (INSPQ) experts before announcing it. 

“We’re not in the same situation as we were in December and January, but public health is following all of this very closely,” he said, noting the BA.2 variant is even more contagious than the original Omicron strain.

“The increase of the variant is worrisome.”

The health network in particular has taken a hit from its spread, he said.

In less than a week, 8,600 health-care workers have been absent because of illness and mostly due to COVID-19 — representing a 60 per cent rise in absences. 

Regions such as Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean, the Côte-Nord, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Bas Saint-Laurent, and the Capitale-Nationale have all seen a surge in cases. 

Although Montreal has seen a milder increase in hospitalizations than other areas, Boileau said the variant’s spread is noticeable across the province. 

He said the BA.2 variant could soon be responsible for at least two thirds of COVID-19 cases in Quebec.

Boileau said that after reviewing the projections from Quebec’s public health-care institute (INESSS) the current trend suggests the number of hospitalizations in the province will likely continue to rise.

No new measures

Quebec has no plans to reintroduce public health restrictions from previous waves, he said.

“Every person has to act responsibly, according to their situation for themselves and for others.”

Despite the variant’s spread, Boileau confirmed the province expects to lift public masking requirements April 15, as planned. 

“It’s normal to have waves for this kind of infection,” he said. “Let’s try to live with it right now.” 

He said most of the current outbreaks in the province stem from public and private gatherings and reminded Quebecers to be cautious about about the risks they take. 

“The time of going to work, even though you might have cold symptoms — that’s over now,” he said. “We have to stay at home. It’s a question of respect.” 

People who are adequately vaccinated and who have symptoms of COVID-19 are asked to isolate themselves at home for a minimum of five days. Those who are not fully vaccinated are asked to isolate for 10 days. 

Although a fourth dose is being offered to residents of long-term care homes and seniors’ residences and to people 80 years old and older, Quebec is not recommending one to the wider population. 

“We’re not expecting to enlarge the population other than those [mentioned] for the benefit of the fourth dose right now,” he said. “But in the future, in a few weeks to a few months from now, this might change.” 

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