COVID-19: “Without a doubt” Omicron will take over in Quebec

Now is not the time to let our guard down, warn Montreal epidemiologists.

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With the Omicron variant on the way to becoming dominant in Europe, COVID-19 cases on the rise in Quebec and Christmas fast approaching, now is not the time to lower our guard, warn Montreal epidemiologists.

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Quebec reported 1,753 infections on Sunday, 1,982 on Saturday and 2,013 on Friday, as it surpassed 2,000 for the first time in nearly 11 months.

Five more deaths were attributed to the virus over the weekend, bringing the death toll in the province to 11,608. A total of 262 people were hospitalized, including 68 in intensive care, the highest figures for more than a month .

There have been 14,042 active confirmed cases in the province, the most since January and double from three weeks ago.

“I think we would be stupid and naive to think that an increase in cases in the community will not affect the population as a whole,” said Dr. Donald Vinh, infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Center.

“I think we have to err on the side of caution and be worried,” he said.

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“I’d rather be worried about a storm that may arrive than being ill-prepared for a tsunami,” Vinh added.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé announced last week that private gatherings inside the holidays for up to 20 people would be allowed as of December 23.

But loosening restrictions shouldn’t be a signal to throw caution to the wind, warned Catherine Hankins, co-chair of the Canadian Working Group on COVID-19 Immunity and professor of public health at the University’s Faculty of Medicine. McGill.

With the rise in infections and the threat of Omicron, “it’s pretty clear that we can actually make things worse if we’re not careful,” she said.

The variant’s rapid spread elsewhere suggests that it won’t be long before the same thing happens here, Hankins said.

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“Omicron will take over here. There is simply no doubt about it. It’s a question of time. Some people say by January and maybe even before. It’s going very quickly, ”she said.

Montreal’s public health department said on Friday that 14 cases of the Omicron variant had been detected in the city – only five of which were associated with travel outside the country.

The fact that the other cases were locally acquired suggests that community transmission was already underway, he said.

While Omicron appears to be associated with milder cases in South Africa, where daily infections have reached over 4,500 in recent weeks, its virulence is difficult to predict in Western countries like Canada, where there are has a much higher proportion of older people, Hankins said.

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“The wild card for us is the fact that our population is older, so that is, I think, one of the reasons that there has been a real push to switch to boosters for people over 70 in the US. Quebec, ”she said. noted.

Hankins said just that gatherings of up to 20 people are allowed doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.

“It’s up to you to use your judgment,” she said.

Dubé said last week he was making a “strong recommendation” that gatherings only include those who have been vaccinated.

“You’re going to have to have a conversation with everyone to find out if they are vaccinated or not. And you hold on. You don’t want your house to be a big event, ”Hankins said.

Vinh called on the government to make rapid antigen test kits available so people can test themselves before holding or attending a holiday rally. Tests give a result in as little as 15 minutes.

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Last week, Quebec began distributing 1.5 million rapid screening tests to child care centers across the province. Child care operators will test parents whose children show symptoms of COVID-19.

If you’re planning to reunite with family and friends, now is the time to take a booster if you’re eligible, and obviously a first or second dose if you haven’t already, Vinh said.

Quebec has been too slow to provide booster shots, he said.

“Is it deployed quickly enough?” The answer is no, ”he said.

“We know from data around the world that a two-dose series in the face of continuing emerging variants, so with Delta and Omicron, is insufficient to adequately protect people,” he said.

“I think the data is extremely convincing that a third dose is absolutely going to be protective,” Vinh said.

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The protection goes into effect within a week, he noted.

Hankins and Vinh recommended during the end of year celebrations:

  • If unvaccinated children are present, people over 70 and immunocompromised people should wear a mask
  • If there is singing, the singers should be away from others
  • Improve ventilation by opening a window once an hour
  • Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter
  • No one should be present

While COVID is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets or smaller aerosols, hand washing is still recommended to prevent spreading colds and flu, Vinh said.

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