As we enter Quebec's second wave of COVID-19, many are wondering what we learned from the first spike and what the government plans to do next. We spoke to Dr. Matthew Oughton, Director of the Royal College Training program in Infectious Diseases at the McGill University Health Centre to learn more about what's gone well since the pandemic started in March.
"We made it through the first wave with little knowledge. You want to take the knowledge you've learned and apply it to move forward," he told MTL Blog.
"It may not be perfect, but we know more now than we did then."
Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
What has the government done right to prepare for a second wave?
One of the things that Quebec did more so than any other province was to prepare the hospitals relatively well.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the centres d'hébergement de soins de longue durée (CHSLD), which I think the provincial government used as a learning experience. I will say I'm impressed with the job that they've done to correct the understaffing.
I'm also rather impressed that the government planned to do 14,000 tests daily and recently doubled that.
When the "enemy" is invisible and highly-transmittable, it's the most effective measure.
I also really like the coloured zones. They're a great way to communicate in a quick and easy to understand fashion. And I applaud the idea of applying things to different regions. Different communities have different risks.
What hasn’t the government done right?
Although the use of this four-level system is clear and applicable, it is not as clear what the exact levels are and the combination of what it'll take to move between zones.
How and what does it take to move from orange back to yellow or up to red?
This is an arbitrary system. It's not unreasonable to ask that these things be made explicit and transparent with values and metrics.
Quebec is also having problems with issues of contact tracing, especially in the younger population.
Six weeks ago, the provincial government said it didn't want to use the federal government's app because of low case counts and privacy.
They said they'd reconsider. If not now, what are they waiting for?
Do you have an idea of how long the second wave could last? Could it possibly be worse than the first wave?
There's no clear definition of what a "wave" actually is.
It's safe to say that in general, pandemics always have multiple waves, other than that, it's too difficult to predict the size of the peak.
It could be bigger, but there have been pandemics where the second wave was smaller than the first.
There are too many factors that go into this.
It's like an ocean: in some places, the waters are calm, in others, they may be rocky with waves.
Remember, we haven't gone through this in the winter. It'll be different in colder and drier seasons when we naturally cough and sneeze more frequently. It's not unreasonable to expect increased transmission.
Do you expect there to be a third wave? How can individuals prepare?
A huge role is what we can do to take care of ourselves and others: physical distancing, mask-wearing, washing hands, etc.
And the flu shot will be a major benefit, too.
Authorities are worried about the "twindemic" — both COVID-19 and the flu taking hospital beds and ventilators simultaneously and creating more shortages.
If we want to get ahead now, we have to use available resources, both used and underused.
The trick is to watch things closely and act quickly.
"We, the undersigned, demand that the Government of Quebec publicly reject, as of now, the idea of a mandatory vaccination passport and that it commit itself to do like the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has done, that is to say, prohibit the obligation to present a vaccination passport in order to attend certain events and practice certain activities," the petition states.
Samson, a former Coalition Avenir Québec member who switched sides in June, held a press conference about the petition alongside Conservative Party of Quebec leader Eric Duhaime on August 12. They explained that the party had already collected 133,000 signatures on a previous petition that did not meet the criteria of the National Assembly.
"We reviewed the wording [...] So we're going to ask these hundreds of thousands of people to re-sign their petition on the National Assembly website, and we're going to invite Quebecers who don't agree with the vaccine passport to come forward as well," Samson said.
The petition, which was posted to the National Assembly website on August 12, had garnered more than 75,000 signatures at the time this article was published.
Mary Simon's approval rating is lower in Quebec compared to the rest of Canada, a poll released Wednesday showed, because the new governor general can't speak French.
An Angus Reid Institute poll of 2,049 Canadians found only 49% of Quebecers approve of her appointment compared to 74% of respondents in the rest of the country.
"Despite being from Nunavik (the Inuit homeland in Northern Quebec), and having been awarded the [province's] highest distinction, many Quebecers remain unconvinced Mary Simon is the best choice for governor general due to her lack of fluency in French," stated the Angus Reid Institute.
"Support is cleaved along linguistic divides in the only majority Francophone province in Canada," it continued, as only 40% of Quebecers whose first language is French approve of her appointment compared to 81% of English speakers.
Though Simon, the country's first Indigenous governor general, is not currently fluent in French, she has promised to learn, Angus Reid stated.
The Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC) put an end to the project due to the findings of a report analyzing the environmental impact of building a natural gas facility in Saguenay.
What was the LNG project?
Énergie Saguenay wanted approval to construct a natural gas processing facility that would "liquefy natural gas in order to export it to world markets," according to its website. In addition to the facility, the idea was to construct an LNG pipeline that would cross into Northern Ontario.
The company said the project's aim is to "support efforts to fight climate change in Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world, by providing transitional energy that will replace other more polluting energies, such as coal and fuel oil."
Quebec Premier François Legault was reportedly in favour of the project but was met with pushback from environmental and Indigenous groups.
In September 2020, the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE) began a public hearing as part of its systematic review of the project in consultation with the Innu communities of Mashteuiatsh and Essipit.
Why did Quebec cancel the project?
On July 21, the MELCC announced that the Quebec government had decided not to authorize the project.
It cited the results of BAPE's environmental impact report, which found that the LNG project in Saguenay "could have the long-term consequence of slowing down the energy transition of the project client countries."
In addition, the government established that there was no way the project could "count on a net reduction in [greenhouse gas] emissions on a global scale, since the project initiator cannot guarantee the use of liquefied natural gas as an alternative to sources that emit more GHG, such as coal and fuel oil."
The project's own GHG reduction measures were also found insufficient to offset its own emissions.
"We had to face the facts that the risks of the Énergie Saguenay project outweighed its benefits," said Benoit Charette, Quebec's minister of the environment and the fight against climate change.
"However, we are optimistic that the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region will quickly have the opportunity to enrich itself with other economic projects, such as the Élysis green aluminum project, which will create jobs while actively participating in the Quebec-wide fight against climate change."