Montreal is preparing a “suppressive” approach to COVID-19 infections involving the Omicron variant of the new coronavirus, including aggressive protocols for isolating cases and tracing contacts, the city’s public health director said Wednesday.
Public health will take an approach similar to the one that helped the city fend off a third wave of COVID-19 in the spring, Dr. Mylene Drouin told reporters. The most notable change, he added, is that Omicron case contacts will have to self-isolate even if they are fully vaccinated.
“What we are going to do is be more aggressive when we have a case,” he said.
“The contacts around these cases are going to be isolated even if they are twice vaccinated, and we will see when we have more information about the characteristics of this variant if we even have to go to contact contacts, to broaden the spectrum of people that we are going to isolate “.
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Drouin said officials would also more quickly close classrooms or workplaces in the event of possible exposures to the variant.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Quebec had confirmed a case of the Omicron variant. Drouin said the case involved a person from Montreal who was doubly vaccinated and asymptomatic, and who said it was unlikely he would have infected anyone else in the city.
Drouin’s update came as Quebec reported an increase in COVID-19 cases, with nearly 1,200 new infections on Wednesday. In addition to the 1,196 new cases, the province also reported two more deaths attributed to the new coronavirus.
He said Montreal’s case counts have risen steadily over the past five weeks, to around 250 a day, but said hospitalizations in the city have remained stable or even decreased slightly. Drouin said current case levels are similar to the peak of the fourth wave in September, adding that he expected them to rise for several more weeks as people gather indoors.
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Sonia Belanger, head of the regional health authority representing south-central Montreal, said the city had plans to free up about 500 hospital beds if the variance ever caused an increase in cases.
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Drouin said officials don’t yet know much about the Omicron variant and they don’t yet know if it’s more contagious or virulent than previous strains. He noted that the “suppressive” approach he is planning is primarily designed to buy time against the variant and that it will be difficult to contain if it starts to spread widely.
Earlier Wednesday, Health Minister Christian Dube said health authorities expected cases across the province to increase after restrictions were relaxed in November. But Dube told a news conference that the government does not want daily numbers to increase during the Christmas season, when Quebecers are expected to gather inside.
“What I want Quebecers to remember is that we must keep those numbers low so that we can enter Christmas at the right level, and not just for ourselves, but for people who work in hospitals,” he said.
“So there is no panic, but we must be very vigilant during the next few weeks.”
Dube declined to answer a series of questions about whether the high numbers would affect the rules surrounding Christmas gatherings. He said the increase in cases is problematic because children between the ages of five and 11 have only just started getting vaccinated and because most adults have not received a booster dose. Hospitalizations in the province have increased by about 10 a day, he said.
Health workers administered just over 23,000 doses of vaccines in the last 24 hours, according to provincial data. About 12,000 of them were for children under the age of 12, and another 6,123 were boosters administered to those over 70.
Both Drouin and Dube have said that the vaccination campaign for children under 12 is going well. Drouin, however, said that at the moment, authorities only have the capacity to send mobile vaccination teams to about half of the city’s elementary schools. He urged as many parents as possible to take their children to mass vaccination centers to protect them as soon as possible.
Dube said province officials have not identified any new cases involving the Omicron variant of the new coronavirus, adding that authorities are evaluating all positive cases Tuesday for that variant for concern.
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