Quebec raises coronavirus alert level for Montreal, other regions as situation becomes 'critical'

WATCH: During a Tuesday news conference, Quebec Premier François Legault urged residents to avoid private gatherings "as much as possible" after saying the majority of new coronavirus cases are from community transmissions between friends and families.

The alert levels for the Montreal, Montérégie, Chaudière-Appalaches and Bas-Saint-Laurent regions have been raised amid an upward trend of novel coronavirus cases.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced the update Tuesday, saying a total of eight regions in the province are now in the yellow zone, which calls for an early warning.

As a result, Legault is asking citizens to limit their private gatherings as much as possible to stem the tide of COVID-19.

“The situation is critical and worrisome,” he said. “And we have to react now. It’s the responsibility of each Quebecer.”

Legault said he is worried for children and that the province cannot close schools, where 377 infections have been reported to date. The uptick in cases could also overwhelm hospitals, he added.

“Right now we have a health-care system that is very fragile,” said Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé.

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He announced that effective immediately, bars can no longer sell food after midnight, a practice that he says some used to skirt a ban on alcohol sales after midnight.

The government will also tighten controls if the alert level for Montreal and other regions is raised to orange, which calls for stricter measures, he added. This includes lowering the maximum number of people in private gatherings from 10 to six.

But the province isn’t at that point yet, according to Dubé.

“We can still control it. We’re able to control it but it requires individual effort,” he said.

Health authorities reported 292 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the province’s total to 65,554. It is the third consecutive day in which more than 275 cases were recorded in a 24-hour period.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the director of Quebec public health, said he is concerned by the recent rise in cases and people need to be more vigilant.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s a question of life or death,” he said.

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Five additional deaths also were reported from the previous day, though authorities say only one death occurred in the past 24 hours. The province’s death toll attributable to the virus stands at 5,785.

The number of hospitalizations spiked by nine for a total of 133. Of them, 23 people are in intensive care — an increase of four.

Quebec gave 21,500 tests on Sunday, the latest day for which that data is available. So far, 1,932,847 tests have been carried out.

Contact tracing increasingly difficult

At a press conference in Montreal, regional public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin reiterated the premier’s message to limit private gatherings such as weddings, birthday parties and religious celebrations.

“We ask people to limit those gatherings … because we know right now most of the community transition comes from those private gatherings,” she said.

Drouin explained contact tracing is becoming more difficult because of private gatherings and community events where people are not respecting public health guidelines.

“What we’re seeing now, for each case we have a larger number of contacts that we have to isolate because social distancing has not been applied,” she said.

“In March for each case we had 10 contacts, now for some cases we have more than 80 or 100 contacts.”

Dubé also pointed to a case in the Montérégie region where a dinner party of 17 people at a restaurant led to 31 infections and the need to contact 330 people.

“Now imagine the work load for the people in public health,” he said

Drouin explained it not only creates more work for investigators who are required to call each person and enter them into a database, but it can also have serious consequences for those people who are forced to isolate.

She also urged extra caution for Montrealers in the 18 to 30 age group.

“This is still the group where there are a large number of cases and high positive rates, so I encourage them to get tested,” she said.

With files from the Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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