October 20th, 2020

Quebec’s stabilizing rate of COVID-19 cases cause for ‘restrained optimism’: expert

By Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press on October 14, 2020.

Quebec's Public Health Director Horacio Arruda, left, Quebec Premier Francois Legault and Health Minister Christian Dube, right, speak to the media at the daily COVID-19 press briefing in Montreal, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Heath authorities in Quebec are reporting 844 new cases of COVID-19 today -- in addition to 359 new cases reported during the past three days that they say were uncounted due to a technical problem. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL – Two weeks after Quebec imposed a partial lockdown on its two biggest cities, the number of new, daily COVID-19 infections reported by health authorities has stabilized.

The fact the daily case numbers haven’t continued to rise is “justification for a little bit of restrained optimism,” said Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal-based cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology.

He said the partial lockdown, which forced gyms, bars and other venues to close and banned indoor and outdoor gatherings, was the right move. Quebec imposed those restrictions on Montreal and Quebec City on Oct. 1, and recently announced the same for many other parts of the province.

“I really don’t see that there’s any other option,” Labos, who has worked with McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, said in an interview Wednesday.

Health officials reported 1,203 new cases Wednesday — 844 of which were recorded during the previous 24 hours. The other 359 cases were confirmed between Oct. 10 and 12 but were previously unreported because of what the Health Department said was a “technical problem” during an update to a computer system.

Labos said it will take at least two weeks — maybe more because of testing backlogs — to evaluate the effect of the government’s approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

But it’s almost impossible, he explained, to determine what effect specific measures have had on the rate of COVID-19 infection. All of the restrictions imposed by the government worked in tandem, leaving scientists without the ability to conduct randomized trials, he said.

Labos said he’s worried recent comments by the World Health Organization’s special envoy on COVID-19, Dr. David Nabarro, are being taken out of context.

In an interview with British magazine The Spectator, Nabarro said the WHO doesn’t advocate lockdowns as a primary means of controlling this virus. That quote made headlines around the world and gave fodder to local critics of Quebec’s lockdown approach.

Labos said that at no point during that interview did Nabarro say lockdowns don’t work. Lockdowns wouldn’t be necessary, Labos said, if Quebec had an adequate contact tracing program and every positive case could be identified and isolated.

“A lockdown becomes necessary when you have uncontrolled explosive growth, which is unfortunately what we had,” he said.

Health authorities Wednesday reported one death linked to the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours and five COVID-19 deaths from earlier dates, for a total of 5,976. Hospitalizations increased by 20 to 488, with 80 patients in intensive care, a decrease of five.

Quebec has now reported a total of 88,994 COVID-19 cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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