Quebec’s top public health official said Wednesday the peak of the pandemic’s sixth wave has clearly passed and the province is ready to end its mask mandate for indoor public spaces on May 14.
“All the indicators are down, be it the number of cases, the number of health-care employees who are positive (for COVID-19), the number of hospitalizations,” interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau told reporters in Quebec City. “The whole portrait is getting better and better.”
Boileau said masking will remain mandatory on public transportation and in health-care facilities. It will also be recommended in seniors residences and other facilities that may be home to vulnerable people.
“The virus is not leaving us on the 14th,” Boileau cautioned. “It will continue to be there.”
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He said it’s possible the decline in the number of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations will slow once the mask mandate is lifted, but he doesn’t expect it to lead to a rise in new cases.
Quebec will be the last province in Canada to lift its masking requirement. Prince Edward Island, the only other province with a mask mandate for public areas, plans to lift the health order effective Friday.
Boileau said it’s unlikely the mandate will be brought back, even though a seventh wave of COVID-19 is expected this fall. But he admits that could change. “We are not expecting to reintroduce any obligations for the wearing of the mask, or any other measures, but we do not know what’s going to happen,” he said.
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COVID-19: Quebec prolongs mask mandate to middle of May now
Quebec reported 30 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus Wednesday and a 19-patient drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations, for a total of 2,176 patients in hospital with the disease.
The mask announcement came the same day that Quebec’s statistics institute reported that the province’s life expectancy rose to 83 years in 2021, after a “significant decrease” in 2020 attributed to COVID-19. Life expectancy for Quebecers hit 82.9 years in 2019 before dropping to 82.3 in 2020.
The provincial statistics agency said excess mortality in the province was 4.5 per cent between the beginning of the pandemic and March 12, 2022.
That translates to 6,400 more deaths than would normally have been expected during that period, well below the more than 15,000 COVID-19 deaths that the province has reported. Boileau has said at least some of those deaths were people who had the disease when they died but for whom it was not their primary cause of death.
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Boileau, however, said the 6,400 figure almost surely under-represents the true COVID-19 death toll. He said part of the reason excess deaths were lower than the number of official COVID-19 deaths may be that other diseases, including influenza, were less present in the province during the pandemic.
The statistics agency said Quebec’s excess mortality was lower than the 6.2 per cent observed in the rest of Canada and well below the 18 per cent seen the United States.
Several European countries, including France, Spain and the United Kingdom, had higher excess mortality rates than Canada, while New Zealand and Australia saw mortality drop below expected levels during the pandemic.
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