Quebec is closing schools, bars, gyms and movie theatres as public health officials race to slow the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said in the face of the variant, which appears to be doubling its spread every few days, the government had to take action to prevent the health-care system from being overwhelmed.
“The situation is critical. The explosion of cases is overwhelming,” said Dubé in the news conference, appearing from home alongside Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda and Daniel Paré, who is in charge of Quebec’s vaccination campaign.
“Our health system is already in crisis.”
Bars, gyms, movie theatres, concert venues and spas must close as of 5 p.m. Monday. Restaurants will have to reduce their capacity to 50 per cent and limit their hours to 5-10 p.m. Professional sports will have to be held without audiences.
Schools will close early for the holidays, shutting down as of Monday evening and returning on Jan. 10. Elementary schools will remain open only for vaccination campaigns and the distribution of rapid test kits.
Working from home is now being mandated for all non-essential workers, including civil servants. The provincial government is pausing all ministerial public activities, such as news conferences that are not related to COVID-19.
Hours before the announcement, Quebec reported a record number of cases for the past 24 hours, with 4,571 new cases, three more deaths and 21 more people in hospital.
Hospitalizations, at 397, are already higher than half of the province’s capacity.
Thursday, projections from the provincial government health-care research institute, INESSS, showed as many as 700 Quebecers could be in hospital due to the virus by early January, with about 160 of them in intensive care.
Several hospitals are once again postponing non-urgent surgeries. Laval’s Cité-de-la-Santé Hospital has reported two outbreaks, with a total of six employees testing positive so far.