Quebec is extending the province’s mask mandate in indoor public spaces until at least April 30, the province’s top doctor announced Tuesday.
Interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau explained the decision at a news conference Tuesday, saying the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations amid the province’s sixth wave prompted him to recommend maintaining the measure — just 10 days before it was expected to be dropped.
“The virus is still circulating considerably,” Boileau said. “We prefer to have a more careful approach and it’s responsible to do this.”
He said the measure will be maintained for the next two weeks and will be regularly re-evaluated by public health officials.
“Our intention is not to keep [masks] forever,” he said.
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Speaking to reporters Monday, Premier François Legault had hinted that the province was leaning toward extending the measure past the scheduled date of April 15, but said to not expect any new restrictions in the face of the sixth wave.
“Fortunately, many people have their three vaccines, so the impact so far is that we don’t expect to have to add new measures,” he said.
According to recent projections from Quebec’s provincial health institute (INESSS), the province is expected to see a rise in both infections and hospitalizations over the next few weeks. Boileau estimates that the highly contagious Omicron subvariant, BA.2, accounts for 75 per cent of new cases.
The decision on masking comes as the province recorded 72 more hospitalizations and 31 deaths Tuesday.
“The pandemic is not over,” said Boileau.
He reminded Quebecers who test positive for the virus that they must isolate for the first five days and then remain vigilant for the following five.
“You can be contagious for a period of 10 days,” he said. “This is not the time to go to restaurants, to shows, to do sports activities with others, nor is it the time to entertain people,” said Boileau.
Experts have cautioned that given the recent rapid spread of BA.2, now is not the time to drop masks.
While Quebec no longer offers PCR tests to the general population, a new study out of Montreal suggests the province saw up to 32,000 new COVID-19 infections per day last week.
Currently only Quebec, P.E.I. and Nunavut still require masking in public places, with Nunavut scheduled to end its mandate within the next week. P.E.I., which was set to drop its mandate Thursday, announced Tuesday morning it would maintain its mandate until April 28.
Other provinces have resisted calls to prolong or reimpose public health restrictions, even as cases have risen in some parts of the country.
Expanding 4th doses
Vaccination remains an effective tool at preventing complications and hospitalization due to the virus, Boileau said.
Last week, Quebec opened access to the fourth dose of vaccine to Quebecers most vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19 — seniors over 80, immunocompromised people and residents of seniors’ homes.
But the government is also issuing a call for caution for those age 60 and older, saying the vast majority of people currently hospitalized in intensive care are in that age group.
On Tuesday, Boileau announced Quebec is opening fourth doses to people 70 and older as of Wednesday and as of Monday, April 11, to people age 60 and older.
Quebec Public Health is encouraging all Quebecers who have not received their third dose of vaccine to obtain it.
Dr. Jean Longtin, a microbiologist with the Health Ministry who spoke at Tuesday’s media briefing alongside Boileau, said the effectiveness of vaccines tends to wane after five to six months.
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