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Family of Quebec's first COVID-19 death implores people to follow health rules

MONTREAL — A woman who says her grandmother was the first Quebecer to die of COVID-19 has published an impassioned plea urging people to follow recommendations of public health officials.

MONTREAL — A woman who says her grandmother was the first Quebecer to die of COVID-19 has published an impassioned plea urging people to follow recommendations of public health officials.

In a message posted to Facebook on behalf of the family, Bibianne Lavallee says 82-year-old Mariette Tremblay was a caring woman who was loved by all.

"We didn't have a chance to save Grandma. But you have the chance to make a difference now that we know; now that we know the damage caused by this pandemic," she wrote.

"Everything must be done to prevent human tragedies like the one we are experiencing from continuing to multiply. We want the death of my grandmother, the first victim in Quebec of COVID-19, to help save lives."

Quebec officials reported the province's first COVID-19 death Wednesday, saying the victim was an elderly woman from the Lanaudiere region who lived in a seniors residence and had come into contact with people who recently travelled.

Authorities have not disclosed the woman's identity. Attempts to reach the family Thursday were unsuccessful, and it was not possible to independently verify the account published on Facebook.

The statement asks Quebecers to show a civic spirit and "stay at home" to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, a message that was reinforced Thursday by officials in Quebec City, who advised against travel within the province.

"When you look at the figures by region in terms of the percentage of the total population of these regions, you see some regions are more affected, some are less affected," Premier Francois Legault told a Quebec City briefing.

The hope is to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading into regions that so far have been largely spared, he said.

Quebec reported 121 confirmed cases Thursday, up from 94 on Wednesday, with seven people currently hospitalized. There are cases in 11 of 17 administrative regions across the province.

Legault said there's no need in the short-term to seal off a region, but he noted it has been done elsewhere to successfully reduce the spread.

In the Facebook posting, the family said Tremblay was lucid but suffered from respiratory problems. When the virus struck, they said, she was vulnerable.

It happened before Quebec began taking exceptional measures to combat the spread of the virus, the statement said.

"Unfortunately, by the time all of the measures were announced and taken, it was too late to spare my grandmother," Lavallee wrote. "When her diagnosis was announced, she was already doomed."

Legault repeated a message Thursday to those 70 and older to listen to authorities and stay inside.

"It's not time to be in shopping centres. It's not the time to go spend an hour at the restaurant with friends," Legault said, evoking an old song by Quebec crooner Jean-Pierre Ferland, "Envoye a maison," which translates as "Sent Home."

"That's where you should be," Legault said

He encouraged people to go out for walks, but not to gather. Legault also encouraged younger people to call their parents and grandparents and check in by phone.

"I want to come back to what I told young people but it applies to everyone: It's not a good idea to have dinners with seven, eight people ... no gatherings, even inside homes."

Also Thursday, Orthodox Jewish synagogues took a difficult decision to close their doors in Quebec — the first time in their history — in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

In a statement, the synagogues said they agreed that Legault's request Wednesday that all places of worship close was a necessary measure.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 19, 2020.

- With files from Stephanie Marin in Montreal.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press