As COVID-19 cases surge, Montreal and Quebec City set to enter highest alert level

Quebec’s two largest cities are set to be put under the highest COVID-19 alert level today, bringing new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. 

Premier François Legault is expected to hold a news conference at 5:30 p.m. to outline the change.

Health Minister Christian Dubé announced Sunday on Tout le monde en parle, a talk show on Radio-Canada, that both cities would move from the orange to red alert level in the coming days.

“Montreal and Quebec City are the hardest-hit areas at the moment. They’re very close to the red zone,” he said. 

“We’re going to announce it in the coming days because I think we’ve arrived at that point. We’re there and we have to act because people are expecting us to be transparent.”

Dubé said that difficult decisions lie ahead and strongly hinted that bars and restaurants in both cities could face more restrictions. 

“There will definitely be difficult decisions for bars and restaurants. We can’t hide that,” said Dubé.  

Last week, Dubé urged the public to stop socializing for the next month in order to slow the spread of the virus, but said he was reluctant to close bars and restaurants because it would lead people to have gatherings in their homes.

Provincial authorities have said they hope to keep schools open even if a region is moved into the red. 

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s health director, said outbreaks in schools have been minimal compared to spread in the community, and that the benefit of a school closure would have to be weighed against the toll put on families.  

Quebec reported 750 new cases on Monday, 245 of which were on the island of Montreal. 

The Quebec City area, which had few cases during the first wave in the spring, had another 125 cases on Monday.

While hospitalizations and deaths remain much lower than they were during the first wave, experts warn those numbers will increase in the coming weeks, putting stress on the health system.

“The rise in new cases is not simply because of an increase in the number of tests,” said Dr. Donald Vinh, a microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre. 

“It’s that the tests are becoming positive more often.…That’s what worries us.” 

Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist at the Université de Montréal hospital, said Sunday the virus is spreading out of control, and suggested the government consider taking tougher measures to prevent the death toll from increasing. 

Making masks mandatory for students inside the classroom was among the measures she proposed.

“It is extremely important that people understand we are heading straight for a second wave that will be at least as bad as the first one, if not worse,” she said.

So far, there has been a total of 1,163 cases in 489 schools in Quebec. There are more than 3,000 public and private schools across the province, with more than than one million students and 226,000 staff.

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