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COVID live updates: Quebec Premier François Legault tests positive for COVID-19 – Montreal Gazette

Quebec should plan mass second-booster campaign for the fall, vaccine committee says.

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Updated throughout the day on Thursday, March 24. Questions/comments:

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Top updates

  • Quebec Premier François Legault tests positive for COVID-19
  • McGill residence students with COVID-19 forced to break isolation to eat
  • Too early to call it a 6th wave, but cases, hospitalizations rising in Quebec
  • Moderna sees 1-in-5 odds of dangerous future COVID variant
  • Legacy and language around masks will be debated long after pandemic recedes: experts
  • New York City mayor to lift vaccine mandate for pro athletes, performers
  • Canada expects 3.2M doses of Novavax vaccine in the coming days, feds say
  • Quebec plans to rebuild health network by 2025: report
  • Province reports 14 deaths as cases, hospitalizations rise
  • Quebec should plan mass second-booster campaign for the fall – vaccine committee
  • Videos: Highlights of yesterday’s Quebec pandemic update
  • In Ontario, reopening brings new worries for hotels and restaurants: Where are the workers?
  • Pandemic fueled 2021 population drop in 73% of U.S. counties
  • Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, vaccine passports, testing, restrictions
  • Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter

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6:15 p.m.

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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.

5:20 p.m.

Quebec Premier François Legault tests positive for COVID-19

Premier François Legault says he has tested positive for COVID-19.

“This afternoon, I started experiencing symptoms of COVID-19,” the premier said on social media this afternoon. “I took a screening test and received a positive result. I feel fine.”

Legault, 64, said he will “work remotely for the next five days, in accordance with public health guidelines.

“We see it with the rise in cases lately: the virus is present in Quebec. Let’s continue to be careful. We’ll get through this together!”

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Legault, who was in the National Assembly today, got his third vaccine dose on Dec. 27 – almost three months ago.

His positive test result comes as cases and hospitalizations increase in Quebec, with the province’s public health director asking hospitals to prepare for more COVID-positive patients.

Yesterday, Legault told reporters that he would continue to wear a mask even after they’re no longer mandatory.

“Yes, I’ll continue to wear it for a certain period,” he said.

Responding to Legault’s tweet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “Take care of yourself, François. And you’re right, we all need to continue to be vigilant. Thank you for this reminder.”

Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade wished the premier well.

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“Take care of yourself and speedy recovery,” she tweeted.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante also took to Twitter: “I wish you a speedy recovery, François!”

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4:50 p.m.

Signs of uptick in COVID-19 transmission, Ottawa public health says, citing masking ‘confusion,’ need for boosters

There are signs of more COVID-19 transmission in Ottawa as the viral signal in wastewater and the percentage of tests coming back positive have continued to increase over the past week, the city’s deputy medical officer of health says.

4:20 p.m.

McGill residence students with COVID-19 forced to break isolation to eat

There are so many McGill students infected with COVID-19 in residence halls that the university is running out of isolation rooms and allowing infected students to leave isolation to collect their meals from dining halls.

Read our full story, by Katherine Wilton.

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4 p.m.

Too early to call it a 6th wave, but cases, hospitalizations rising in Quebec

Getting a handle on the extent of community spread of COVID-19 has become more difficult since Quebec severely limited who can get laboratory-confirmed PCR tests in early January.

Only specific groups can now get screened at government clinics, including health workers and symptomatic people who are at least 70 years old.

But there are clear signs that cases are mounting in Quebec, though Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health director, this week said it’s too early to say if the province finds itself in a sixth wave.

Just under 2,300 new cases were confirmed by PCR tests on Thursday, according to provincial figures. That’s the highest in more than five weeks.

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There has also been a marked increase in the number of new cases being registered by the public via Quebec’s rapid-test self-reporting website.

So far this week, the daily average of cases reported via the site is 758.

Last week, the daily average was 352. The week before that, an average of 289 cases were being reported daily.

After falling steadily since January, hospitalizations have also been on an upward trajectory in recent days. The number of COVID-positive patients in Quebec hospitals is now at its highest point in more than a week.

1:50 p.m.

Moderna sees 1-in-5 odds of dangerous future COVID variant

From the Bloomberg news agency:

Chances are roughly one in five that new COVID-19 variants will arise that are more dangerous than the current versions, Moderna Inc.’s chief executive officer said.

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The more likely scenario is that vulnerable people, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, will need annual boosters for protection against strains that are similar in virulence to Omicron, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg TV. The CEO spoke on the day of a company event detailing its research and progress with messenger RNA vaccines.

Moderna is working to reassure investors about its longer-term growth prospects as the new cases decline following the winter spread of highly transmissible Omicron. However, Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant continues to circulate, leading to concerns about a resurgence and the emergence of new strains of the virus with greater power to infect and sicken.

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“I think there’s an 80 per cent chance that the variants that we’re going to see in the future are manageable from a severity standpoint and vaccine production,” Bancel said in the interview. “But I think we should always be very cautious because there’s a 20 per cent chance that something happens in some of the new variants that is very virulent.”

Moderna has signed deals for $21 billion in 2022 vaccine sales, up from $19 billion announced in February, according to a statement Thursday. The company also said discussions for additional 2022 and 2023 orders are ongoing with countries around the world, including the U.S.

On Wednesday, Moderna said it would apply for clearance for its COVID vaccine in kids under 6 after the shot generated strong immune responses in a big pediatric trial. Gaining clearance for younger children could represent another opportunity for Moderna, as rival partners Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE have hit study setbacks.

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Bancel said that authorization of Moderna’s vaccine in very young children is more likely to come first in the U.K. or other countries abroad. Clearance in young children could take a bit more time in the U.S., he said, where Moderna’s vaccine isn’t yet cleared for children of any age.

During Thursday’s virtual investor meeting, Moderna said that interim data from a mid-stage trial of its first influenza vaccine indicated it was safe and generated an immune response. The results suggest the experimental flu shot may be superior to existing vaccines for influenza A, the strain accounting for most adult case, officials said. The company also said it expects its combination influenza and COVID vaccine to begin human trials this year.

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“I believe we’re going to get to a very high efficacy flu shot on the market,” Bancel said on Bloomberg TV.

1:45 p.m.

European drugs regulator recommends AstraZeneca’s COVID drug

The European Medicines Agency on Thursday authorized the use of AstraZeneca Plc’s antibody drug for preventing COVID-19 infections in adults and adolescents over 12 years of age.

Read our full story.

12:50 p.m.

Legacy and language around masks will be debated long after pandemic recedes: experts

From The Canadian Press:

First, we didn’t have enough masks to protect us against COVID-19, then we all needed to wear them. Then we didn’t, then we did again. There were fights, criminal charges and protests over them. And now most mandates are lifting.

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Evolutionary biologist Prof. Sarah Otto said not since the two-piece swimsuit was introduced over 75 years ago has such a polarized debate raged.

“The last time wearing a tiny piece of cloth caused so much controversy was when bikinis were introduced,” said Otto, an expert in mathematical models of pandemic growth and evolution in the zoology department at the University of British Columbia.

The divisiveness of the mask is a legacy that will long be debated after the pandemic is over, she said.

Along with vaccines and social distancing, she said masks still remain one of the most important layers of protection that help slow down the spread of the virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collated data that was released last December, which said if the number of people wearing masks increased by 15 per cent, it could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce financial losses.

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Prof. Steven Taylor of the University of British Columbia’s department of psychiatry said it is important to understand that masks are a key tool in the fight against the virus.

“For example, if we had to rely on just lockdowns, that would have negative impacts on the economy and negative impacts on people’s mental health because people would be isolated or crowded and so forth,” he said.

The messaging around masks in Canada oscillated between not wearing them to using a cloth face covering. Then the surgical variety was recommended, followed by N95s, and now almost all mandates have been lifted across the country.

Otto said single-layered cloth masks have big gaps that let most particles in and surgical masks offer better protection, while N95s are the best.

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She likened masks to footwear that’s worn at a high-risk construction site or when taking a stroll on the beach.

“The N95 are the steel-toed boots of the mask world. But when the good weather shows up, if the virus goes down and the risks are much lower, then bring the flip-flops out — the surgical masks.”

The experts agreed that the message around mask wearing could have been better communicated.

Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, said masks have been a “very divisive issue” during the pandemic.

They’ve been politicized and there’s been an erosion of trust in public health officials from the start of the pandemic, he said.

As more information about the virus became known, it was important that scientists and health officials recalibrated their message to keep up with the “fast-moving story,” McIntyre said.

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“I really believe that we had a pandemic of mistrust amongst many organizations, agencies and structures in our society,” he said. “And that’s why you see people walking down the streets with a mask on their head or wearing it as a chinstrap.”

Taylor is the lead author of a February 2021 study looking at the effectiveness and negativeattitudes toward masks. The study found 84 per cent wore masks because of COVID-19, while the remaining 16 per cent who refused to wearmasks were “a small but highly vocal minority.”

While the study didn’t look at the reasons for people not wanting to wear masks, he said opinion polls show the justification is that masks are ineffective and uncomfortable.

The study noted that similar arguments were made over a century ago during the Spanish flu, whichsaw the formation of the anti-mask league.

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12:35 p.m.

New York City mayor to lift vaccine mandate for pro athletes, performers

New York Mayor Eric Adams is expected to lift the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for professional athletes and performers, allowing unvaccinated Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play at home and lifting a cloud ahead of Major League Baseball’s opening day.

Read our full story.

12:15 p.m.

Canada expects 3.2M doses of Novavax vaccine in the coming days, feds say

A new COVID-19 vaccine that was expected to start arriving in Canada last week is now scheduled to be delivered in the coming days, Health Canada says.

On Feb. 17, Nuvaxovid, from the U.S. company Novavax, became the first protein-based vaccine authorized by Health Canada. Some experts hope it will attract some unvaccinated Canadians hesitant to get mRNA vaccines.

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Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health director, yesterday said the initial delivery was delayed but he expected news in the coming days.

Today, in an email response to questions from the Montreal Gazette, a Health Canada spokesperson said it “can confirm that Novavax will deliver an initial quantity of 3.2 million doses to Canada, with shipments anticipated to begin this month.

“We are working with the company to finalize the precise delivery schedule.”

When will doses be delivered to Quebec?

“Distribution to provinces and territories will be finalized once shipments have started to come in,” the Health Canada spokesperson said.

For now, it’s unclear when Quebec will start administering the new vaccine.

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Canada signed an agreement with Novavax to purchase up to 76 million doses of Nuvaxovid, with some of it eventually manufactured in Montreal.

The vaccine is to be produced at a new National Research Council of Canada facility in Montreal, with production expected to begin “later this year,” Novavax said in a statement last month.

When it authorized Nuvaxovid, Health Canada said that, based on the clinical trials, the vaccine is 90 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and 100 per cent effective at preventing severe disease.

11:50 a.m.

Quebec plans to rebuild health network by 2025: report

The Legault government’s blueprint to overhaul and reinforce Quebec’s fragile health care network predicts its work will be completed by 2025, according to a 90-page internal plan obtained by Radio-Canada.

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Read our full story.

11:35 a.m.

Chart: Current situation vs. one year ago

11:35 a.m.

Charts: Quebec cases, deaths

11:35 a.m.

Charts: Quebec’s vaccination campaign

11:05 a.m.

Quebec reports 14 deaths as cases, hospitalizations rise

Quebec has recorded 2,295 new cases of COVID-19, the provincial government announced this morning.

That’s the highest one-day case count in just over five weeks.

The case tally only includes people who received PCR tests at government screening clinics. It does not accurately reflect the number of cases since it does not include the results of home rapid tests.

In addition, 14 new deaths were reported, bringing the cumulative total to 14,288.

Hospitalizations rose again and are now at their highest point in more than a week.

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

  • Montreal Island: 405 cases, 1 death.
  • Net increase in hospitalizations: 28, for total of 1,062 (127 entered hospital, 99 discharged).
  • Net increase in intensive care patients: 7, for total of 57 (11 entered ICUs, 4 discharged).
  • 17,540 PCR tests conducted Tuesday.
  • 5,585 vaccine doses administered over previous 24 hours.

10:30 a.m.

Quebec should plan mass second-booster campaign for the fall – vaccine committee

The Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec today recommended that the province start planning for a possible mass vaccination campaign in the fall to administer fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The CIQ, Quebec’s immunization committee, says the province should “plan a booster immunization program against COVID-19 beginning either at the beginning of September or around mid-October 2022 (that) would target either all persons authorized to receive vaccines against COVID-19, or those usually targeted by the seasonal influenza vaccination program, which usually begins in mid-October.

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“A final recommendation for such a program could be issued over the summer.

“The exact groups targeted will remain to be defined and will depend in particular on the epidemiological situation, the characteristics of the variants in circulation, the proportion of people already infected naturally and the duration of effectiveness of the vaccination.”

The CIQ also recommends the province have “vaccine stocks and material and human resources (ready) for an urgent resumption, if necessary, of a new mass vaccination campaign starting with the most vulnerable groups, as well as prior preparation of certain operational aspects such as prior obtaining of consent for seniors living in collective settings.”

On Wednesday, Quebec announced it would start offering second booster doses to some vulnerable groups, including residents of long-term care homes (CHSLDs), people living in the community who are 80 and older, and some people who are immunocompromised.

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You can find a summary of the report here and the full report here.

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9:50 a.m.

Videos: Highlights of yesterday’s Quebec pandemic update

With hospitalizations expected to rise, how is Quebec justifying lifting more mandates?

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‘Let’s wait before talking about a sixth wave’, Boileau says

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Should masks be reinstated in schools as cases begin to rise again?

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As cases rise, Quebec to provide 4th dose to CHSLD residents, people 80+

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9:45 a.m.

In Ontario, reopening brings new worries for hotels and restaurants: Where are the workers?

After two years of COVID-19 restrictions, Ontario restaurants and hotels are getting back to business.

But where are the workers?

For Steve Lachance, owner of Bytown Catering, increasingly the answer is “overseas.”

Read our full story.

9:45 a.m.

Calgary wastewater data shows uptick of virus as BA.2 variant becomes dominant strain

An upward trend in the amount of COVID-19 virus in Calgary wastewater should caution people to more closely monitor the level of risk they’re taking when going out, experts say.

Read our full story.

9:45 a.m.

Pandemic fueled 2021 population drop in 73% of U.S. counties

The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic was reflected in a natural decrease last year in the population of nearly three-quarters of U.S. counties versus the two previous years, the census bureau said on Thursday.

Read our full story.

9:15 a.m.

Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, testing, restrictions



8:30 a.m.

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