At a press conference on Tuesday, December 7, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that the province is tweaking its private gathering rules for the upcoming holiday period. The good news is that you can indeed invite more people to your Christmas party — as long as everyone is vaccinated, that is.
As many as 20 vaccinated people will be allowed to attend a private gathering as of December 23.
Dubé added that the government is relying on Quebecers' sense of responsibility in the application of health measures.
"For example," he said, "in restaurants at this moment, there's probably been some relaxation [in the health measures] and there will be Christmas parties at restaurants in these next few weeks [...] It's okay but please, make sure people are vaccinated and that you ask for the vaccine passport."
The health minister explained this slight tweak in the regulations comes after a recommendation from National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda and his team. Before this announcement, only up to 10 people were allowed in private gatherings.
Dr. Arruda personally recommended against inviting friends and family who aren't vaccinated to a private gathering. He cautioned Quebecers to enforce measures like social distancing and mask-wearing if they do attend.
Dubé said that generally, public health officials still "[ask] that we continue to limit our contacts if we want to continue to control the virus."
"We count on Quebecers to be responsible and on their judgement, as we have done from the start to continue to respect health measures."
Is Quebec on track for a Valentine's Day gift? Though Premier François Legault said Thursday that the province isn't yet in a place that would allow the government to lift more Quebec COVID-19 rules, interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau suggested that could change by mid-February.
In an interview on Radio-Canada program Tout un matin Friday morning, the director told host Patrick Masbourian that public health experts are currently "working extremely hard to try to weigh" the risks associated with higher numbers of infections and hospitalizations "to make them compatible with a loosening of restrictions."
Pressed by Masbourian, Dr. Boileau predicted that a gradual reopening could begin before the middle of next month, but cautioned that he still has to consult with other public health officials.
He also rejected the idea of presenting a reopening calendar in the near future, saying he couldn't anticipate COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers. The reopening of Quebec elementary and high schools on January 17, he explained, could have an effect on the epidemiological situation.
Public health experts are nevertheless "confident we are on the right path," Boileau continued.
The province reported decreases in the total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on January 20 and 21 after weeks of what the Institut national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) called "exponential growth."
The institute's latest projections suggest new daily hospital admissions could drop to around 200 within the next two weeks. Quebec tallied 346 new hospitalizations on January 21.
Total COVID-19 hospitalizations, meanwhile, could drop to 3,000 in the same time period, down from 3,351 on January 21.
Health measures in Quebec will not be changing in the immediate future, according to Premier François Legault. Despite a slowdown and, most recently, a slight decrease in hospitalizations, the situation is still too fragile to justify relaxing Quebec COVID-19 rules, he said.
"We seem to have reached the peak of hospitalizations today at last," he began in a press conference Thursday afternoon. "Yes, we can predict a decrease in hospitalizations soon, but for the moment we are at the worst of the pandemic with 3,400 hospitalizations."
Legault acknowledged Quebecers who are antsy for things to return to normal as soon as possible.
"You wouldn't believe the number of people who write to me, who call me, who talk to me, who tell me they're fed up, who would like the measures to be lifted," he said, reiterating that to do so now would significantly risk the chance of more infections and hospitalization throughout the province.
"We are at 3,400 hospitalizations and we are missing about 12,000 health care workers, so we cannot afford to relax the measures."
The latest numbers and projections offer at least some encouraging news.
Quebec reported 14 fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations on January 20 — the first decrease in weeks. The Institut national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) also said Thursday that though the number of hospitalizations remains high, it appears to have plateaued after weeks of what the institute called "exponential growth."
In the next two weeks, the INESSS forecasts new hospitalizations will drop to 200 per day, down from 353 in the January 20 report. It also expects a "stabilization" in intensive care unit occupancy.
Total COVID-19 hospitalizations could decrease to 3,000 in the next few weeks, as well.
The INESSS cautions, however, that its projections don't take into account the reopening of elementary and high schools on January 17, a factor Legault said Thursday could "have a small effect" on infections.
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 considered 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.