Quebec public health authorities have approved a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for at-risk groups and given hospitals a signal to prepare for the possibility of a sixth pandemic wave, the province’s interim director of public health said Wednesday.
Dr. Luc Boileau explained it was “difficult” to determine if the province has entered a new wave yet, but said the health-care institutions are aware of the risks of an uptick in novel coronavirus indicators.
Yet, Boileau said the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron variant has prompted that rise and that half of the province’s current infections are linked to it. It isn’t more dangerous, he added, but it’s “much more contagious.”
“We are observing, across several indicators, a rise in cases and hospitalizations,” Boileau said.
Public health authorities expected an increase as the government eased restrictions though, such as phasing out its vaccine passport system earlier this month. Boileau said they are keeping a close eye on the situation.
“We’re not surprised by the rise of cases and hospitalizations. We’re not expecting those to be as high as they were two months ago,” he said.
Boileau said the plan to lift the mask mandate in mid-April is still underway but it will not be bumped up — such as lifting other have measures have been — given the evolving situation.
The province doesn’t plan on reinstating public health restrictions despite the rise in cases, he added. Quebec is in a “very different situation” than when the Omicron surge struck last December, he said.
At the time, few people had received their dose dose of the vaccine and the province estimates that nearly three million Quebecers fell ill with the disease in recent months. They still have some immunity, Boileau explained.
The government’s decision to lift restrictions took the probable rise of BA.2 into account, he added.
The province will also soon offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to certain groups, including those who are 80 and older.
It will also be made available for Quebecers who live in long-term care homes and seniors’ residences, which were hard hit by the health crisis in 2020.
Boileau said the additional shot will not be mandatory, but it will be offered starting next week.
Hospitalizations set to rise, projections show
The number of Quebecers hospitalized with the disease is expected to rise in the coming weeks, according to new modelling from the province’s health-care institute.
The weekly projections published Wednesday by the Institut national d’excellence en sante et en services sociaux (INESS) suggests an “upward trend in the number of new hospitalizations as well as the number of regular beds occupied by COVID patients'” in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, the number of patients in intensive care units is expected to remain relatively stable.
The INESSS noted that COVID-19 represents a secondary diagnosis for over half of regular COVID-19 patients and about a third of ICU patients, meaning patients enter hospital for another reason but then test positive.
— with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.