MONTREAL — Health Minister Christian Dube offered a series of examples on Tuesday to illustrate how easily the novel coronavirus is spreading throughout the province and straining the health-care network.
A 17-person gathering in a restaurant south of Montreal is linked to 31 confirmed COVID-19 infections and has health authorities scrambling to track down 330 other patrons who may have been exposed, Dube told a news conference.
An outdoor picnic at a provincial park where people didn't physically distance or wear masks is linked to another five cases, Dube said. "In my opinion, this is unacceptable. If people don't understand that kind of example, well, I'm sorry, but they'll never understand."
On Tuesday, Quebec doubled the number of regions in its second pandemic alert level following five consecutive days with more than 200 new reported cases of COVID-19.
Premier Francois Legault said eight regions, including Montreal, are now considered in the "early warning" yellow COVID-19 alert level. The next level, orange, is moderate alert, while red is considered maximum alert.
Legault, sitting alongside Dube, called the situation "critical," and asked Quebecers to limit private gatherings as much as possible to slow the spread of the virus.
"If this virus continues to propagate, there is a risk that we will have to close businesses," Legault said. "And fathers and mothers risk losing their ability to make a living. The situation is critical and worrying. We have to act now."
Dube said effective immediately, bars can no longer sell food after midnight, a practice that he said some have used to skirt a ban on alcohol sales after midnight.
With the additional regions added to the second alert level, 75 per cent of Quebec's population is living in so-called yellow zones.
Quebec reported 292 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus on Tuesday. Hospitalizations increased by nine, for a total of 133, while 23 patients are in intensive care, a four-person jump.
The province has now reported a total of 65,554 COVID-19 infections and 5,785 deaths linked to the virus.
In Montreal, public health director Mylene Drouin said Tuesday private gatherings remain the major problem.
"If you have a dinner, a party with friends, if you're going to a wedding or a community event, it is really important to apply the distancing, wash your hands, and if it's inside ... you have to wear the face cover," Drouin told reporters in Montreal.
"We ask people to limit those gatherings if it's not necessary because we know most of the community transmission comes from those private gatherings."
Legault said for now, the government isn't changing rules that allow private indoor gatherings of up to 10 people. But, he said, Quebecers should limit gatherings and follow health directives.
"I am making a call for solidarity," Legault said. "I am asking all the people of Quebec, young and old, to think of the vulnerable people. Think of the people waiting for surgery, who work in the health-care network. Of the mothers and fathers who need revenue for their kids ... It's time to think of others."
Quebec's latest COVID-19 figures in schools total 377 confirmed infections in at least 223 schools as of Monday afternoon. The province reported 154 classrooms have been closed temporarily due to the virus, 143 of which are in the public system.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press