Quebec Premier François Legault announced Tuesday that Dr. Luc Boileau will be the province’s interim public health director, after Dr. Horacio Arruda, a key leader in the province’s pandemic response, quit on Monday.
Boileau, the current head of the province’s health-care research institute, the INESSS, takes on this new role as the Omicron wave continues to overwhelm hospitals across the province, forcing the health-care network to postpone surgeries and other medical services.
Legault thanked Arruda on Tuesday, noting he was in the difficult position of explaining public health decisions and said he’d grown close to him throughout the last 22 months of the pandemic.
“Being in front of the media every day and explaining these decisions is not easy for anyone,” Legault said. “I think there are advantages to having someone new after all those months, to take on those responsibilities.”
Legault said Arruda would take a couple weeks to rest before returning to help out in another role that has yet to be determined.
Arruda wrote in a letter dated Monday that his office has offered public health opinions and recommendations amid uncertainty and based on the best available knowledge and various expert opinions. But he acknowledged there was an “erosion” in public support for health measures.
The province recently brought back several stringent health measures.
Legault also said Tuesday that adults who refuse to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks will have to pay a “health-care contribution,” noting that unvaccinated people are currently straining the health-care system.
Legault did not say when the tax would take effect or how much it would cost, but he did say he wanted it to be significant enough to act as incentive to get vaccinated — more than $50 or $100. Legault said details would be revealed “in the coming weeks.”
Montreal-based civil rights lawyer Julius Grey told CBC on Tuesday that discriminatory taxes can be challenged. Forcing people to get vaccinated could be seen as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but there are legal arguments to be made in favour of making vaccinations obligatory, he said.
Vardit Ravitsky, a professor in bioethics at the Université de Montréal, said from an ethical perspective, the province has not yet exhausted alternatives to increase the pressure on the unvaccinated.
“We still have not implemented vaccine passports for all non-essential services,” Ravitsky said.
The pandemic has hit vulnerable and marginalized populations particularly hard, Ravitsky said, and some marginalized communities distrust the health-care system and government for different reasons.
“So a flat fee that targets all these groups the same, I think, has a harder time respecting the principle of equity and justice compared to other measures the government could choose,” she said.
Quebec’s health ministry reported 62 additional deaths on Tuesday, bringing the death toll in the province to 12,028. Health officials also reported 2,742 hospitalizations — a pandemic high for the province — with 255 people in intensive care.
Lab-based testing is no longer widely accessible, but the province on Tuesday reported an additional 8,710 lab-confirmed cases.
-From The Canadian Press, with a file from CBC News, last updated at 7:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.
For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.
You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.
In Central Canada, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province would deploy internationally trained nurses to health-care settings strained by staffing shortages.
The province’s health-care system has been under increasing strain in recent weeks due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which has also caused staffing shortages across several sectors.
According to Critical Care Services Ontario, 80 adults were admitted to intensive care units for COVID-19-related illnesses on Monday, the most ever on a single day during the pandemic.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 21 additional deaths and a new high of 3,220 hospitalizations. There are 477 people with COVID-19 in ICUs.
The update came as the province reported 7,951 additional lab-confirmed cases.
Across the North, officials in Nunavut on Tuesday reported five additional cases of COVID-19, including one presumptive case.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday N.W.T. reported its first COVID-19 hospitalization during its most recent wave of COVID-19, driven by the Omicron variant. The territory reported 162 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total active case count to a record high of 1,072.
Health officials in Yukon reported 123 more cases on Tuesday, but said there are many others that are not being diagnosed.
They also said that people who travel outside the territory are no longer being advised to reduce their contacts after returning home because “COVID-19 activity [is] similar in the Yukon to that outside the territory.”
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia on Tuesday reported one COVID-19 death and 58 hospitalizations, with four people in intensive care units. The update came as the province — which recently shifted temporarily to remote education — reported an additional 616 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials on Tuesday reported five COVID-19 hospitalizations. Health officials reported 750 new cases Tuesday — but that figure included 323 positives that had been sent for testing at out-of-province labs because of capacity issues. More results from out of province are expected in the days ahead, the health minister said.
Prince Edward Island’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said on Tuesday there are COVID-19 outbreaks at nine child-care facilities on the Island as well as outbreaks at two long-term or community-care facilities. She also said there was an outbreak at the Provincial Correctional Centre.
The province on Tuesday reported six COVID-19 hospitalizations, with one person in intensive care, and 304 new lab-confirmed cases.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations in New Brunswick hit a pandemic high on Tuesday, with 88 people in hospital, including 14 in ICU. The province also reported one more COVID-19 death and 191 lab-confirmed cases.
In the Prairie provinces, hospitalizations in Manitoba hit a pandemic high on Tuesday, with 418 people in hospital, including 42 in ICU. The province saw 2,012 new lab-confirmed cases, and is currently dealing with outbreaks in 24 long-term care homes in Winnipeg.
In Saskatchewan, the total hospitalizations stood at 121 on Tuesday, health officials reported, with 11 in ICU. There were no additional deaths reported as the province recorded 1,027 additional lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Alberta on Tuesday reported 708 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 80 people in ICU. The update came as the province reported eight additional deaths since its update last week, and 4,704 additional lab-confirmed cases.
British Columbia reported on Tuesday that COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 469, with 97 people in intensive care units. The update came as the province’s health ministry reported three additional deaths, along with 2,239 more lab-confirmed cases.
Provincial health officials said on Tuesday current restrictions on gathering and events across the province aren’t likely to change “for now,” with the current, Omicron-driven wave of the pandemic expected to continue “for the next few weeks.”
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8:40 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Tuesday night, roughly 313.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.
In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a wave of public and political outrage on Tuesday over allegations that he and his staff flouted coronavirus lockdown rules by holding a garden party in 2020 while Britons were barred by law from mingling outside the home.
France on Tuesday reported 368,149 new coronavirus cases, the highest single-day tally of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, in Italy, the latest wave of COVID-19 cases is increasing pressure on hospitals and jeopardizing the treatment of some 11 million cancer patients, a medical association said on Tuesday.
“The postponement of surgery may lead to the development of tumours in more advanced stages, with less chance of a cure,” the Federation of Oncologists, Cardiologists and Haematologists (FOCE) said in an appeal published on its website. The organization said Italy’s hospitals suffered from a lack of investment and inadequate staffing levels.
In the Americas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Department advised against travel to neighbouring Canada, and the Washington Post reported that it is considering recommending better masks.
In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced he had contracted COVID-19 for a second time, saying he had a mild case and would keep working in isolation until he had recovered.
In the Asia-Pacific region, a third Chinese city has locked down its residents because of a COVID-19 outbreak, raising the number confined to their homes in China to about 20 million people. The lockdown of Anyang, home to 5.5 million people, was announced late Monday after two cases of the Omicron variant were reported. Residents are not allowed to go out and stores have been ordered shut except those selling necessities.
Another 13 million people have been locked down in Xi’an for nearly three weeks, and 1.1 million more in Yuzhou for more than a week. It wasn’t clear how long the lockdown of Anyang would last, as it was announced as a measure to facilitate mass testing of residents, which is standard procedure in China’s strategy of identifying and isolating infected people as quickly as possible.
The lockdowns are the broadest since the shutting down of Wuhan and most of the rest of Hubei province in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Since then, China’s approach has evolved into one of targeting smaller areas hit by outbreaks for lockdowns.
The approach of the Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 4 in Beijing, and the emergence of Omicron have brought back citywide lockdowns in a bid to snuff out outbreaks and prevent them from spreading to other parts of China.
In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Monday reported 2,409 additional cases and 77 deaths.
In the Middle East, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he had tested positive but was in good health.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 9:00 p.m. ET
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