Prime Minister François Legault has once again raised the idea of ​​easing the measures during the holidays, but a decision will not be made before next week.

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A year ago this week, Prime Minister François Legault called a press conference to tell Quebecers he had bad news: despite earlier promises that Christmas gatherings would be allowed, he now had to cancel them.

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The increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the prime minister said at the time, made large gatherings too risky. Instead, Quebecers would have to settle for what he described as a “quiet” vacation period. He encouraged people to take more naps, read books, and talk on the phone.

A year later, Legault has again raised the idea of ​​relaxing anti-pandemic measures during the holidays, saying he would like to allow larger gatherings if public health permits. But with the increase in cases throughout the province and the upward trend in hospitalizations, are Quebecers expected to repeat themselves last December?

“The situation is not that bad at the moment, but things are deteriorating, people are not as careful as they used to be, and now we have the Omicron variant around the corner,” said Dr. André Veillette, Montreal Clinical Research Institute immunologist, Thursday.

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“I am cautiously optimistic, but I still think that we must modify some measures and, in addition, re-emphasize the importance of following them.”

At the time of Legault’s announcement last December, Quebec was in a very different situation. There were still two weeks until the province began to vaccinate the first residents in the long-term centers and months to open the campaign to the general population.

On the day Legault announced it was “canceling Christmas,” as many called it, Quebec had registered 1,470 new COVID-19 cases and 30 deaths. Hospitalizations were also increasing at an alarming rate, having risen from 285 to almost 740 in the previous two months.

Although cases are now on the rise again in Quebec, the situation is much less serious than it was at this time last year, especially in terms of hospitalizations and deaths.

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The province recorded a seven-month high of 1,196 new cases on Wednesday, followed by another 1,145 on Thursday. Quebec’s seven-day moving average of new cases now stands at 995.

The number of people hospitalized increased by 10 for three consecutive days this week, but fell by 12 on Thursday for a total of just under 230 people. That’s about 500 fewer people than at the same time last year. The number of daily deaths has also remained below double digits since the summer.

As for vaccination, as of Thursday, 81 percent of the population has received at least one dose. And after starting vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 last week, just under 40 percent of them have already received a dose or are scheduled for the next several weeks.

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Although Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé has been more cautious about the idea, Legault said this week that he “would like” to see the limit on family reunions increased from 10 to 20 or 25 for the holidays, but he will hear what decide public health. A decision on this is expected next week.

The prime minister has said he is encouraged by the number of hospitalizations that remain stable and hope that cases will start to decline as young children continue to be vaccinated.

“Yes, the cases are relatively high, but the big difference from what we had last year on the same date is that we only have 239 hospitalizations,” Legault told reporters on Wednesday. “The number that we must follow is the number of hospitalizations. And for the moment, it’s stable. “

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But for Veillette, focusing solely on hospitalizations as an indicator is a “narrow-minded” approach that misses the big picture. While you agree that not overwhelming the hospital network is crucial, there are other factors to consider as well.

“I think (the government) is looking at this as accountants, not as health specialists,” he said. “You don’t want people to get sick, whether it’s at home or in the hospital. If you are sick at home, you can still give it to someone else or develop complications like long-term COVID. “

To help keep transmission under control, Veillette believes Quebec should expand the use of rapid tests as soon as possible. He has also expressed the need to start giving the third dose to healthcare workers and everyone over the age of 50, as was done in Ontario this week.

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If not, combined with the unknowns surrounding the Omicron variant, he fears current trends may continue.

“So I don’t think it’s very realistic to think that we’re going to have bigger parties (over the holidays),” Veillette said. “I suspect that is not going to happen, and even with groups of 10, people will have to be more careful.”

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