Up to six people or “two bubbles” in the houses from Sunday

MONTREAL — Prime Minister François Legault is asking Quebec residents to postpone their Christmas plans if possible, while those who absolutely want to get together can do so before December 25 “for a single supper, a single evening,” for ten people or less .

He suggests that people try to minimize the risk of transmission by keeping their distance from each other, wearing a mask, leaving a window open to promote ventilation, and washing their hands regularly.

Quebec, however, will tighten the screw from Boxing Day by limiting gatherings to a maximum of six people or two family bubbles, so from December 26. The same restriction will apply in restaurants.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday evening in Montreal to paint a portrait of the situation regarding COVID-19, which is developing very rapidly in Quebec, Mr Legault said the province has risen from 2,700 cases just a few days ago to more of 6,000 cases identified on Tuesday. This rapid rise is expected to continue as approximately 9,000 new cases of COVID-19 are announced Thursday, due to the spread associated with the more contagious Omicron variant.

The impact on hospital admissions was palpable, warned Mr Legault, indicating Quebec residents aged 60 and older are at greater risk of being hospitalized after contracting the virus. He invites them to get their third dose of vaccine.

More than half of the beds reserved for patients with coronavirus are occupied, with 445 hospitalizations, 88 of which are in intensive care. An increase of 30 hospitalizations since the day before.

Even if we take every possible precaution, “we cannot rule out a hospital capacity overrun,” the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INPQ) said in a press release.

According to INSPQ projections, updated Wednesday, the increase in cases and hospitalizations promises to be exponential in most of the scenarios presented.

The health minister, Christian Dubé, tried to reassure. Hospitals still have “room to maneuver,” especially with load shedding, he said. However, the degree of severity of the Omicron variant remains unknown and its effect on hospital admissions will be monitored in the coming days, Mr Dubé said.

“A little luck”

With scarred features and a rather gloomy appearance, Mr. Legault warned Quebecers “will go through a very difficult ordeal,” but he invited them to keep hope and praised their resilience.

Faced with an increasingly critical situation, many expected a tougher tightening. The measures announced are “enough to maintain control in hospitals,” said Mr Legault. But he did not hide that other decisions, if necessary, could come after December 26.

Mr Dubé said those who have been vaccinated and made “all the sacrifices” are entitled to “a little luck in the coming days”.

“Right now let’s try to have a nice Christmas with as few numbers as possible given the circumstances,” he said.

However, the prime minister invited the unvaccinated to avoid gatherings when they account for 50% of hospital admissions.

“Not Enough” Screening Tests

Since Monday, thousands of Quebecers have been flocking to pharmacies to try and get their hands on one of the rapid screening test kits. However, many of them come out empty-handed as pharmacies receive them drop by drop.

Mr Legault warned there were “not enough” tests for everyone at this point. “That’s why we said it’s important right now that these tests be reserved for people with symptoms,” he said.

The prime minister said he expects additional deliveries from the federal government soon. Mr Dubé said other alternatives are being considered to meet demand.

PCR tests in screening clinics, which have reached their daily capacity, should also be reserved for symptomatic people, also argued the national health director, Dr Horacio Arruda.

The reactions of the opposition parties

Later that evening, Liberal leader Dominique Anglade criticized the Prime Minister for being “overwhelmed by the situation”. However, she encouraged Quebecers to “stay together, to regain the upper hand over the virus”.

“We must all act responsibly on Christmas Eve, when the government places the burden on the shoulders of Quebecers, as well as the health network,” the official opposition leader said in a press release.

According to Mrs. Anglade, “the CAQ should have been better prepared”, telling herself “stunned to see the CAQ government’s improvisation”.

Québec solidarity points out that several questions remain unanswered about how the government intends to increase its screening and investigation capabilities.

“What will he do to accelerate and facilitate the spread of rapid tests, which have been delayed for so long? We are two days away from Christmas and not all Quebec residents have received their rapid tests,” health spokesman Vincent Marissal said in a statement.

“Governments must share the instructions around screening broadly and clearly, both within the population and in health centers: confusion reigns and harms the collective effort,” he continued.

“Sigh of Relief”

The Federation of Quebec Chambers of Commerce, for its part, was pleased to see that, unlike last year, businesses are closing for the holiday season. “A sigh of relief” for entrepreneurs.

“This is a gain that reflects the magnitude of the efforts entrepreneurs have made to ensure compliance with health standards in their businesses throughout the year,” said Charles Milliard, president and CEO of FCCQ.

He also welcomes Ottawa’s announcement to broaden the eligibility criteria for certain business and employee assistance programs.

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