As of Tuesday morning, the Jean Coutu website said tests were "very limited," and all 27 Montreal Jean Coutu locations had no available appointments to book in order to get the free boxes of tests. Many other locations in Quebec are facing the same reality.
It's clear that people have been eager to get their free rapid at-home COVID-19 tests. On Monday morning when the tests were first being prepared to be handed out, Jean Coutu's website posted a more than 11-hour wait for customers to access the page where they could reserve a test.
After 10 a.m., the wait shrunk down to seven hours, and half an hour later, it went down to three.
Now, on Tuesday morning, it seems the pharmacy chain has completely run out of tests until new supplies become available.
In its January 20 report, Quebec reported a decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time in weeks. There were a total of 3,411 COVID-19 hospital patients, 14 fewer than the day before. 285 people were in intensive care — that number remained unchanged.
The January 20 daily report comes as the Institut national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) releases its latest hospital occupancy projections. The institute noted that though hospitalizations are still high, they seem to have plateaued between January 8 and 14.
In the next two weeks, the INESSS projects the number of new patients admitted to a hospital every day will drop to around 200 (Quebec reported 352 new hospitalizations on January 20). Total hospitalizations, meanwhile, will drop to "about 3,000," according to the forecast — "still well above the level 4" occupancy level "recently defined by the Ministry of Health," the INESSS says.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is also expected to stabilize.
The INESSS notes, however, that these projections don't take into account changes in health measures, nor the potential effects of the reopening of Quebec elementary and high schools on January 17.
The province also tallied 6,528 new COVID-19 cases on January 20, though official case counts are inaccurate since PCR tests are no longer available to the general public.
There were 98 more deaths linked to the disease.
Premier François Legault is set to hold a press conference Thursday afternoon alongside Health Minister Christian Dubé and interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau.
This article’s cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.
According to a new study conducted by Maru Public Opinion, 27% of Quebecers would approve of forcing the unvaccinated to "serve up to five days as part of a jail sentence for endangering others/overwhelming health care system," which is in line with the national average.
More than half of Quebecers (55%) surveyed wouldn't even feel bad for unvaccinated people who end up really sick — or dying — from COVID-19, also in line with the Canadian average. Currently, 12% of Quebecers surveyed admit to refusing the vaccine.
Maru contacted 1,506 Canadians — including 387 Quebecers — between January 14 and 15 for this survey. They note that "for comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20."
The reasons cited in the study for avoiding the vaccine were varied, ranging from the understandable to the ludicrous. Civil liberty was a concern for many: 45% of unvaccinated Canadians claimed they are defending their right to make their own choices, and 22% say they just don't like the government telling them what to do.
Fear seems to be another strong motivator: 42% of unvaccinated Canadians claimed to be waiting for more data about the vaccine's safety, and 28% said they're anxious or scared of the effects the vaccine may have.
32% of unvaccinated Canadians, meanwhile, simply said that their immune system could beat the virus if they got it, so they don't need a vaccine.
Misinformation and conspiracy theories have also contributed to anti-vax sentiments. 21% said they're concerned that the vaccine will affect their genetic structure. 9% still think that COVID-19 is a hoax, while 7% believe the vaccine is just a ploy to keep drug companies rich and 4% think it's a global conspiracy to control those who get it. 3% think the vaccine will give them COVID-19.
Finally, only 1% of unvaccinated Canadians claimed it was against their religion to get the vaccine.
On the other end of the spectrum, 67% of Quebecers think that the vaccine should be mandatory, which is just above the national average of 66%. 78% of people in Quebec support the provincial government's decision to require a vaccine passport to enter the SAQ, the SQDC and large stores. And amid the controversy, 66% of Quebecers support an anti-vax tax.
The strain on our health care system remains a concern for Quebecers. 60% of respondents think the unvaccinated should pay out of pocket for any medical assistance they need due to COVID-19, and 35% believe the unvaccinated shouldn't be treated in public health care facilities at all.
"We need to be careful to not give more reasons to encourage these individuals to not respect the rules," said Dubé.
"It's not for nothing that we're talking about prioritization protocols for hospitals," he said, referring to the government's planning to deal with beds filled beyond capacity and staffing shortages caused by the Omicron wave. "The situation in hospitals, if people haven't understood, is we've reached the end of the line."
Last week, a handful of Montreal restaurants, including Kesté and Cafeteria Europa, announced that they would open on January 30 at full capacity. That plan is in protest of "arbitrary measures that have been proven not to be effective in solving the issue we are all faced with," according to an Instagram post.
But Dubé said things need to happen in a certain order.
"We have to take control of the situation, notably hospitals, before discussing reopenings," the health minister explained on Tuesday.
"At the same time, I want to say to those people that you have a reason to be upset," Dubé said. "We all have reason to be upset [...] but at the same time, it would be disappointing to let go [of rules] where there could be, in a few days, a stabilization of cases and eventually, a reduction. Before opening your restaurant, think about the workers in hospitals, where we're missing 12,000 workers."
Dubé declined to provide a timeline or a sense of what might reopen next when the government begins to remove restrictions, reiterating that the situation in hospitals needed to be under control first.
"I understand you're frustrated, but think about the workers and the health network [...] we want to reopen, but wait a little bit."
A majority of Quebecers still approve of Premier François Legault, according to a recent Angus Reid Institute survey — despite the fact that the population has grown increasingly critical of his government's handling of the pandemic.
Legault's approval rating currently sits at 55%, the survey says. That's a big drop from his peak of 77% in May 2020 — and it's his lowest rating since his election in October 2018. But Legault's approval rating is nonetheless second-highest in Canada, behind only Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, who has 57% approval.
"Legault's personal popularity, or approval, was at stratospheric levels in the early days of the pandemic, as were those of many other premiers," Shachi Kurl, the president of Angus Reid Institute, told MTL Blog in an email.
"Doug Ford reached a halcyonic 69% approval. In B.C., John Horgan was at 71%, Blaine Higgs reached 80% at the height of the cross-country love-fest for provincial leaders."
Legault's 22% drop since then is not insignificant, but minor compared to the free-fall of Ontario Premier Doug Ford (currently down 39% from his pandemic peak) and Higgs (down 46%). Legault's ongoing popularity is perhaps most remarkable given that Quebec has arguably been hit the hardest by the pandemic — demonstrating the depth of his support.
"That two years later — after curfews, a catastrophic loss of life within long-term care homes, and now a promised 'health tax' on the unvaccinated — Legault remains above 50% approval, is a testament not only to Quebecers' perceptions of him but their buy-in for the CAQ," Kurl said.
Approval of Legault's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has dropped to 59%, also the lowest rating Angus Reid has reported for the Quebec premier. It's still in positive territory, but far from its high of 92% in April 2020. (Angus Reid notes their most recent survey was conducted before Legault announced the tax on unvaccinated Quebecers.)
Quebecers are generally happy with the province's vaccine rollout, the survey says — 81% say the government has done a good job or a very good job. But 58% say the government has done a poor job or a very poor job of "making rapid antigen tests available where they are needed."
The pandemic response may be affecting voting intentions. A different poll, by Mainstreet Research, showed support for the Coalition Avenir Québec has dropped 10% since their last survey in February 2021, and now sits at 38%. The drop is significant, but the runner-up, the Quebec Liberal Party, is still at a distant 20%.
The Angus Reid survey was conducted from January 7 to 12, 2022, with a sample of 5,002 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum.
This article’s cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.