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COVID live updates: Quebec cases soar to record 4,571 as hospitalizations continue to climb – Montreal Gazette

Restaurants can only be open between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. Movie theatres and entertainment venues are also being closed. Working from home is now mandatory for all.

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Updated throughout the day on Monday, Dec. 20. Questions/comments: ariga@postmedia.com

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Top updates

  • Here are the new Quebec restrictions announced today
  • ‘We’re at war with the virus’: Quebec strengthens COVID-19 restrictions
  • Some important things to know about COVID rapid tests
  • Videos: Key moments from today’s Quebec pandemic update
  • New restrictions are ‘difficult but necessary,’ Plante says
  • ‘This is a cruel joke’: Quebecers struggle to get COVID-19 test kits at pharmacies
  • With cases at record levels, Quebec to close schools, bars and limit restaurant hours
  • Canadian Armed Forces to be deployed to Côte-Nord region in response to outbreaks, Ottawa says
  • Slated to close, the Palais des congrès vaccination site will stay open and expand
  • Photos: First day of free rapid test distribution in Montreal
  • Booster eligibility expands to all adults in Ontario
  • Quebec cases soar to record 4,571 as hospitalizations continue to climb
  • As cases soar, Quebecers scramble for rapid tests, booster shots
  • Omicron will be ‘a very hot and very intense fire,’ Quebec doctor says
  • Quebec restrictions to stall Omicron variant come into force today
  • Canadians urged to get COVID-19 booster jabs as Omicron concerns grow
  • Quebec has Canada’s highest per-capita infection rate
  • Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter

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5 p.m.

Thanks for reading

I’ll be back tomorrow with another live blog.

In the meantime, you can follow all our coverage via the coronavirus page .

My previous COVID-19 live blogs are available here .


4:55 p.m.

Here are the new Quebec restrictions announced today


4:30 p.m.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly tests positive

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3:35 p.m.

‘We’re at war with the virus’: Quebec strengthens COVID-19 restrictions

Following up on my earlier live coverage, here’s our full story, by Jesse Feith, about today’s announcement regarding new restrictions in Quebec.


3:35 p.m.

Some important things to know about COVID rapid tests

“A negative rapid test is not a licence for carelessness and should not be used as a justification to throw caution to the wind and start holding large parties. But if used properly in tandem with all other public health measures, they can help reduce viral spread.”

Read the latest column by Christopher Labos, a Montreal physician and cohost of the Body of Evidence podcast.


3:30 p.m.

Videos: Key moments from today’s Quebec pandemic update

Did Quebec react too slowly to the arrival of the Omicron variant?

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When might the rest of Quebecers be able to schedule a third dose?

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What’s the situation in the province’s hospitals?

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Amid Omicron wave, is Quebec looking to recommend N95 masks in more situations? 

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What’s Quebec doing to boost testing and vaccination capacity? 

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2:40 p.m.

New restrictions are ‘difficult but necessary,’ Plante says

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2:30 p.m.

‘This is a cruel joke’: Quebecers struggle to get COVID-19 test kits at pharmacies

Quebec’s rapid test rollout began in sub-zero temperatures Monday morning with limited supplies available, leaving many Montrealers in the cold — both literally and figuratively.

Some drugstores — restricted to 108 COVID-19 test kits each — ran out of products within an hour, frustrating people who had started lining up outside before doors opened. Jean Coutu Group, which requires people to book appointments via its website to pick up tests, saw its site repeatedly crash.

Read our full story, by Frédéric Tomesco.

People wait in line outside a pharmacy at Laurier Ave. and St-Denis St. for free COVID rapid tests, on Monday, December 20, 2021.
People wait in line outside a pharmacy at Laurier Ave. and St-Denis St. for free COVID rapid tests, on Monday, December 20, 2021. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

2:15 p.m.

With cases at record levels, Quebec to close schools, bars and limit restaurant hours

Quebec’s COVID-19 situation continued to deteriorate on Monday, with a new record set for daily cases – 4,571 – and hospitalizations continuing to climb.

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“The situation is critical,” Health Minister Christian Dubé told a press conference, adding that he expects to soon announce the postponement of medical procedures so the health system can focus on accelerating vaccinations.

The minister announced new restrictions and said more may follow in the days to come, citing the arrival of the more transmissible Omicron variant.

Dubé appealed to Quebecers not to give up or let their guards down – and to immediately cut contacts with people outside their households.

“We are eight million Quebecers – we’re at war, it’s a war against the virus,” he said. “If every person drops from 10 to five contacts, we are eliminating 40 million contacts.”

Dubé announced a series of new measures to take effect at 5 p.m. today (Monday, Dec. 20).

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These types of establishments must close:

  • Bars
  • Casinos
  • Movie theatres
  • Entertainment venues
  • Gyms and spas

In addition:

  • Working from home is now mandatory for employees.
  • Restaurant dining rooms can only be open between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.
  • Sporting events, amateur and professional, can only happen with no spectators.
  • All elementary and high schools and adult education centres still in session are closed until January.

Test clinics under strain

Dubé said Quebec can’t keep up with the number of people showing up to get tested at screening clinics.

He said those with COVID-19 symptoms should continue to go to the clinics to get tested.

But people without symptoms should avoid the clinics. These test sites are not for asymptomatic people who want to get tested, for example, because they are planning to take part in get-togethers, Dubé stressed.

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With cases surpassing 4,000, public health officials can’t keep up contact tracing, Dubé added.

He urged those who test positive to immediately go into isolation and to reach out to everybody they were in contact with.

Distribution of free rapid tests

Quebec on Monday started distributing free home rapid tests to the general public via pharmacies, though many were turned away because supply is limited.

Dubé urged parents with children in elementary schools and daycares not to pick up tests at pharmacies for now since they have already been given tests via schools and daycares.

He also stressed that the rapid tests are aimed at people who have symptoms.

And if people who test positive should go to a testing clinic to confirm the result, Dubé. They must also isolate until they get the final result.

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Ramping up vaccinations

Dubé said vaccination and booster doses are key to emerging from the latest crisis.

More than 3,000 vaccinators have come forward to help overcome a severe staffing shortage that is hampering the province’s vaccination campaign, Dubé said.

He said he understands younger people are eager to get boosters but it’s important to focus on more vulnerable people first.

With the arrival of reinforcement, the province expects to significantly boost vaccinations in January, Dubé added.

Cut your contacts: Dubé

The minister urged Quebecers to reduce their contact with other people immediately.

Dubé was asked if Quebec will reduce the allowed limit at holiday gatherings from the current maximum of 10 people.

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“We’re taking it one day at a time,” he responded. “Today, people must understand that they have to reduce contacts.”

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Armed Forces to be deployed to Côte-Nord region in response to outbreaks, Ottawa says

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12:30 p.m.

Slated to close, the Palais des congrès vaccination site will stay open and expand

Slated to permanently close Dec. 24, the Palais des congrès vaccination site will now remain open due to high demand, the Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal health authority said today.

It offers shots on most days from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to people age five and older.

In January, daily vaccination capacity will more than triple – from 1,000 to 3,500, the health authority said.

During the holiday season, the schedule will change:

  • Dec. 24: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Dec. 25-26: Closed.
  • Jan. 1-2: Closed.

Vaccinators at the Palais des congrès have administered more than 300,000 doses since it opened about 10 months ago, making it one of Montreal’s busiest clinics.

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Early this month, Quebec announced the clinic would close because the lease was expiring. At the time, it said the site would be replaced by a much smaller one (daily capacity: 500) four blocks away.


11:55 a.m.

U.K. may tighten COVID curbs after Christmas as Omicron sweeps Europe

From the Reuters news agency:

Britain may impose new curbs to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant after Christmas, media reported on Monday, a day after the Netherlands began a fourth lockdown and as other European nations consider putting a squeeze on Christmas.

Omicron infections are multiplying rapidly across Europe and the United States, doubling every two or three days in London and elsewhere and taking a heavy toll on financial markets, which fear the impact on the global economic recovery.

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The variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong and has so far been reported in at least 89 countries. The severity of illness it causes remains unclear.

A British cabinet meeting on Tuesday had raised expectations new measures may be imminent, but media reports said ministers pushed back and that restrictions, lasting between two weeks and a month, were now more likely to be introduced after Christmas.

“The 28th has been pencilled in by officials as the starting point for the new curbs,” Steven Swinford, political editor of the Times, said on Twitter. Swinford and others said these would likely include a ban on households mixing indoors, as well as possible limits on the numbers who can meet outdoors, and pubs and restaurants limited to opening outdoors only.

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Any decision to limit how people can celebrate Christmas would have come at a high political cost for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose authority has been undermined by questions over whether he and his staff broke lockdown rules last year.

“At this point, we are still monitoring the data and keeping a very close eye on it,” a spokesperson for Johnson said when asked about the possibility of more curbs.

Britain has reported record levels of COVID-19 cases over the past week, with officials and ministers warning that hospitalizations are also rising.

In Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Omicron variant is spreading faster than the Delta variant and causing infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19.

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a shutdown on Saturday, ordering the closure of all but essential stores, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places from Sunday until at least Jan. 14.

Germany plans to limit private gatherings from Dec. 28 to a maximum of 10 people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, according to a draft of proposed steps. The document also said access to restaurants would remain limited to people who could provide proof of vaccination or recovery.

Ireland on Friday ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. and reduced the capacity in all public events. Italy is also considering new measures, newspapers reported on Sunday.


11:35 a.m.

Jean Coutu says all appointments to pick up free rapid tests have been allocated ‘for the next few hours’

Jean Coutu, whose website has repeatedly crashed today, says appointments to pick up free rapid tests have all been allocated for now.

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11:30 a.m.

Photos: First day of free rapid test distribution in Montreal

Gazette photographer Pierre Obendrauf visited several Montreal pharmacies this morning to capture the first day of free distribution of home rapid tests in Quebec.

The lineup started early outside a Pharmaprix at Sherbrooke and Hogan Sts. in Montreal.
The lineup started early outside a Pharmaprix at Sherbrooke and Hogan Sts. in Montreal. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette
People wait in line for COVID-19 rapid test at a pharmacy at Laurier Ave. and St-Denis St.
People wait in line for COVID-19 rapid test at a pharmacy at Laurier Ave. and St-Denis St. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette
People register outside to get on ticket for a later appointment to get a COVID-19 rapid test kit at a pharmacy at Saint-Laurent Blvd. and Mont-Royal Ave.
People register outside to get on ticket for a later appointment to get a COVID-19 rapid test kit at a pharmacy at Saint-Laurent Blvd. and Mont-Royal Ave. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette
Edouard Coulombe shows the rapid test kit he received at pharmacy at Van Horne and Dollard Aves.
Edouard Coulombe shows the rapid test kit he received at pharmacy at Van Horne and Dollard Aves. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

11:20 a.m.

Booster eligibility expands to all adults in Ontario

From The Canadian Press:

Ontarians 18 and older can now book a COVID-19 vaccine booster through the provincial portal, as long as it has been at least three months since they had their second shot.

But many social media users who logged in to reserve a spot Monday morning reported facing a virtual lineup of more than an hour.

Others said the earliest appointments they could find were more than a month away, while others reported no available appointments in their region.

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Roughly 15 minutes after the expanded eligibility officially took effect Monday, health officials in Ottawa said all available spots had been reserved.

Niagara Region Public Health said Sunday night that all booster appointments for Monday and Tuesday had already been snapped up. The health unit said it would provide an update once more spots were added.

The province announced Wednesday that it was expanding eligibility in an effort to bolster defences against the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Pharmacies were able to start offering the boosters to younger adults on Friday, but now Ontarians can make appointments through the province’s or a local public health unit’s website.

There are also new public health restrictions in effect in Ontario, in a move Premier Doug Ford said was designed to protect against Omicron while the population gets boosters.

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As of Sunday, restaurants, retailers, gyms and other indoor settings will only be allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity. Indoor social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people.


11:10 a.m.

Updated charts: Quebec cases, deaths


11:10 a.m.

Update on Quebec’s vaccination campaign


11:05 a.m.

Quebec cases soar to record 4,571 as hospitalizations continue to climb

Quebec has recorded 4,571 new cases of COVID-19, the provincial government announced this morning.

That’s a new record, the previous one having been set yesterday (3,846).

Hospitalizations continue to rise and are now at a level not seen since May.

In addition, three new deaths were reported.

Some other key statistics from Quebec’s latest COVID-19 update:

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  • Net increase in hospitalizations: 21, for total of 397 (49 entered hospital, 28 discharged).
  • Net increase in intensive care patients: 3, for total of 82 (10 entered ICUs, 7 discharged).
  • 45,063 vaccine doses administered over previous 24 hours.
  • 38,879 tests conducted Saturday.
  • Positivity rate: 10.1 per cent.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Quebec has reported 490,294 cases and 11,642 deaths linked to COVID-19.


10:50 a.m.

Moderna says a third dose of COVID vaccine boosts Omicron immunity

A third dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine increased antibody levels against the Omicron variant, results the company described as reassuring while it works on a shot tailored to the new strain.

Read our full story.


10:40 a.m.

There are long lineups for free rapid tests at Quebec pharmacies today

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10 a.m.

As cases soar, Quebecers scramble for rapid tests, booster shots

New restrictions come into force in Quebec today, including capacity limits in stores, restaurants, bars and places of worship.

Quebec cases continue to rise, with the province reporting a record 3,846 new infections yesterday and Premier François Legault warning that “Quebec is going to be hit hard” by the Omicron variant.

Provincial officials are urging those eligible to get booster shots as soon as possible.

This morning, the Clic Santé website crashed as third-dose appointments opened for people age 65 to 69. 

But Health Minister Christian Dubé tweeted at 9 a.m. that the site was back up and running.

This morning alone, 83,000 vaccine appointments were booked, the minister said.

Monday morning also saw the start of free distribution of rapid tests to Quebecers via pharmacies.

Line-ups started early outside drug stores.

The Jean Coutu chain requires people to book appointments via its website to pick up tests.

The company website repeatedly malfunctioned on Monday morning, and those who could reach the site found few pharmacies were listed as having appointments available.

Dubé said: “The distribution of rapid tests begins today in pharmacies and will continue in the coming days. Quantities are limited. We ask you to be understanding. Pharmacies will display the inventory status at their stores.”

Dubé is scheduled to hold a press conference at 1 p.m. today to provide an update. He will reportedly announce another dramatic rise in cases as well as new restrictions. I’ll have live coverage and a video feed.

Due to the rapid rise in cases, Legault has reportedly decided to suspend all public activities, including press conferences, for all ministers, apart from briefings related to public health.

Dubé’s press conference today will be via Zoom. He will be accompanied by Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, and Daniel Paré, who is coordinating Quebec’s vaccination and rapid-test-distribution campaigns.

Here’s more on these stories:

  • Pharmacies on Monday started receiving the first rapid test kits ordered by public health to relieve an overcrowded COVID-19 test centre network, Frédéric Tomesco reports.
  • The Quebec Clic Santé website malfunctioned Monday morning as Quebecers sought appointments to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

9:30 a.m.

Omicron will be ‘a very hot and very intense fire,’ Quebec doctor says

Quebec’s positivity rate — the percentage of tests performed that are positive for COVID-19 — was 9.9 per cent on Sunday, and probably higher in Montreal and Laval, said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital. Barely three weeks ago, it was at three per cent.

“This is almost certainly being driven by Omicron,” he said. The variant is rapidly transmissible, he said, and “it seems to be able to double the number of cases in as little as two days, which is stunning.”

Read our full story, by Susan Schwartz.


9:30 a.m.

Quebec restrictions to stall Omicron variant come into force today

New public health measures come into effect today in Quebec.

They were announced last week in an attempt to stop the spread of the Omicron variant, which has created a record surge in cases of COVID-19 and a rise in hospital admissions.

Read our full story.


9:30 a.m.

Canadians urged to get COVID-19 booster jabs as Omicron concerns grow

Large parts of Canada are starting to hunker down, with new restrictions and lockdowns coming into effect as a fifth wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the Omicron variant saw thousands of new cases across the country over the weekend.

Read our full story.


9:15 a.m.

Quebec has Canada’s highest per-capita infection rate

Here’s the rate of case growth per 100,000 people over the past seven days, via the federal government’s latest epidemiological update .


9:15 a.m.

FAQ: Who can get their third dose in Quebec? And when?

Quebec is expanding eligibility for a third COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Here’s what you need to know about the province’s booster plan.


9:15 a.m.

A guide to Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccine passport

Quebec’s vaccine passport is mandatory for people 13 and older who want to access services and activities deemed non-essential by the provincial government, including bars, restaurants, gyms, festivals and sporting events.

Quebecers can use a smartphone app to prove their vaccination status or simply carry their QR code on paper.

The app is available from Apple’s App Store and Google Play .

We have published two guides to the passports – one looks at how to download and set up the app , and another answers key questions about the system, including how, when and why.

You can find more information on the Quebec government’s website – one page has details on how the system works, and another has a list of the places where a vaccine passport will be required .

A test scan of a vaccine passport is shown at an Econofitness gym in Laval on Aug. 17, 2021.
A test scan of a vaccine passport is shown at an Econofitness gym in Laval on Aug. 17, 2021. Photo by Christinne Muschi /REUTERS

9:15 a.m.

A guide to COVID-19 vaccinations in Quebec

Local health authorities have set up mass vaccination sites across Montreal.

You can book appointments via the Clic Santé website or by phone at 1-877-644-4545.

Quebecers can also visit walk-in AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccine clinics .

Here are the nuts and bolts of getting vaccinated , by Katherine Wilton. Her guide includes the age groups targeted, how to book appointments, and addresses of vaccination centres.


9:15 a.m.

Here are the current pandemic restrictions in Montreal and Quebec

We are regularly updating our list of what services are open, closed or modified in Montreal and Quebec.

You can read it here.


9:15 a.m.

Here’s where Montrealers can get tested today

Montrealers can be screened at test centres across the island.

For other parts of Quebec, check out this page on the Quebec government’s site .


8:30 a.m.

Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter

Stay informed with our daily email newsletter focused on local coronavirus coverage and other essential news, delivered directly to your email inbox by 7 p.m. on weekdays.

You can sign up here .


ariga@postmedia.com

Read my previous live blogs here.


  1. Health workers greet and divide into groups a steady stream of people arriving at Hôtel Dieu Hospital for COVID-19 tests in Montreal on Thursday, December 16, 2021.

    As Omicron takes hold, Quebec reports record 3,768 new cases with hospitalizations on rise

  2. A clerk washes walls in front of signs that indicate the total number of clients allowed in a store at the Complexe Desjardins on Friday, December 4, 2020.

    Quebec cuts capacity limits in stores, bars, restaurants to 50% as of Monday

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