Just over one month in the past, amid a lull in Quebec’s COVID-19 an infection charges, the province’s main public health official, Dr. Horacio Arruda, used a vibrant metaphor to explain the risk posed by extra contagious variants of the virus.
“We are right now in a period of calm seas,” he stated. “But underneath there are sharks, and those sharks are the variants.”
Despite the warning, the government determined to authorize swimming in these shark-infested waters.
In the following weeks, guidelines have been relaxed throughout a lot of the province. The Quebec City space and the Outaouais have been among the many areas reclassified as orange zones. Restaurant eating rooms and gymnasiums have been reopened. There was hope within the air.
Even in Montreal — a perennial bother spot — extracurricular faculty actions and huge spiritual gatherings have been permitted once more. Older high-school college students have been instructed to return to full-time, in-person lessons.
But on Tuesday, Premier François Legault performed the function of Chief Brody within the movie Jaws. Get out of the water, he instructed the province.
At a information convention in Montreal, he introduced he was cancelling the small freedoms not too long ago granted to residents of the larger Montreal space: gyms will shut, extracurriculars will cease, spiritual providers will be capped at 25 people max.
Last week, he introduced a collection of harsher measures for the Quebec City space and the Outaouais, where cases have grown at exponential charges.
Controlling the variants
Epidemiologists and other health specialists had warned the government in March it was making a high-odds guess by lifting measures despite the fact that the variants have been clearly gaining floor.
The usually staid public health analysis institute the INSPQ stated bluntly on March 26 that the provincial measures in place “were insufficient to control the variants.”
But Arruda, Legault and Health Minister Christian Dubé — le trio, because the francophone press calls them — insisted the strikes have been justified as a result of hospitalizations have been persevering with to lower concurrently aged Quebecers have been being vaccinated.
In an interview with La Presse final week, Arruda spelled out, with stunning candour, the province’s technique to a youthful journalist.
“If I have 2,000 [new] cases [a day] in Quebec, but we don’t have significant hospitalizations or deaths, we can live with that,” he stated.
“Because older people are protected, we will, of course, have people your age who will find themselves in intensive care and die, which is horrible. But is it better if you close everything, and people break the rules in secret?”
Avoiding Ontario’s destiny
At the second, Quebec is averaging 1,200 cases per day, and to this point, hospitalizations have not returned to the vital ranges seen round Christmas.
Legault stated Tuesday he hoped by taking motion now, earlier than hospitalizations rise rapidly, he can keep away from the scenario dealing with Ontario, where intensive care items are hitting capability and lots of schools are set to shut to in-person studying once more.
“It’s a matter of days, or at most, weeks,” he stated, earlier than Quebec’s hospital numbers start to tick upward.
The new measures introduced Tuesday, alongside with these launched final week, carry extra coherence to the government’s message. The added restrictions mirror the hazard of a virus that has been turbo-charged by variants.
“It was the right thing to do. We needed to be more proactive,” stated Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious illness specialist on the Université de Montréal health centre, following Legault’s announcement.
“The models showed we risked having an exponential growth in cases if we kept the measures as they were before.”
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But the abrupt pivot — from downplaying the dangers of the third wave to re-imposing lockdown measures — has exposed the government to criticism that its public health approach is haphazard. And there are signs its credibility has been damaged.
On the one hand, the government faced protests last week in several Montreal-area schools where students and parents wanted more, not fewer, public health measures in place.
On the other hand, its flip-flop caused whiplash, bitterness and confusion in and around Quebec City. Over the weekend, police there received more than double their usual number of calls about illegal gatherings.
The new rules
Legault wouldn’t admit he had made a mistake by lifting measures last month. “We won’t stop ourselves from providing freedom when we’re able to do so, or closing things again when it’s necessary,” he said.
Throughout the pandemic, the premier has made clear the government’s priority is protecting the health-care network, as opposed to eliminating the virus outright (which was the stated goal of the Atlantic provinces, for example).
Arruda’s comments to La Presse last week only made it apparent what the trade-offs are.
It is a bargain the public has found reasonable to date. Freedom was maximized for the least vulnerable — school-aged children — and progressively reduced for the most vulnerable, especially the elderly.
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Some in long-term care houses have been successfully confined to their rooms for months on finish because the virus circulated extensively in the neighborhood. In flip, they have been first up when vaccines turned obtainable.
But the extra contagious variants of COVID-19 have upended the phrases of the cut price. The outdated strategies for holding transmission are now not sufficient to forestall the virus from spreading like wildfire, and vaccines cannot be rolled out quick sufficient to forestall youthful people from ending up in hospital.
With the measures introduced during the last week, the Legault government signalled it’s now not simply speaking about these new realities of the pandemic — it has began to regulate to them as properly.