Quebecers "in a fight" against COVID-19, Legault says as more deaths announced

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, right, responds to reporters questions during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebecers are in the battle of their lives against COVID-19, Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday as the province's death toll rose to six from four.

The two new deaths were people "of an advanced age" and one was travel-related, the province's director of public health said.

In his daily update, Legault didn't shy away from using the language of war to rally Quebecers, whom he described as "an army of 8.5 million people" united in the fight against COVID-19.

"Every action we take will bring us closer to victory," he said.

"Our children and grandchildren will remember how we won this battle, so let's make them proud."

The number of cases in the province rose to 1,339 on Wednesday, up 326 from the day before. Seventy-eight people were in hospital, and 35 in intensive care. More than 1,000 new cases have been detected since Sunday.

The cases include outbreaks at three seniors' residences: one in Montreal, one in the Lanaudiere region north of it, and one further east in the Estrie region, Legault said.

The four previous deaths all came from the same residence in Lavaltrie, some 60 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

While the two latest cases were not linked to seniors' homes, Legault pleaded with the population to take extra care to keep the virus out of places where elderly people reside, noting they have a much greater chance of complications.

"Even if it can happen, and we've seen cases, where there can be serious consequences for younger people, it remains the case that the chances are much higher for seniors to have serious consequences," he said.

Legault reminded returning snowbirds that they must isolate themselves at home for two weeks and are not to leave, even for walks.

"This is important," he said. "You're at risk, you stay home for two weeks."

Despite sharp increases in cases in recent days, Legault described the results as "encouraging," noting that the number of positive cases remains low compared to the overall number of tests.

While Quebec has by far the highest number of cases in Canada, Legault said it was impossible to compare between provinces because each one tests differently.

He said Quebec has tested more than any province with the exception of B.C. and Alberta, and has focused on groups with the highest probability of getting the virus.

Some 26,600 tests have been negative, while 3,000 people are waiting for results.

The hardest-hit region in the province is Montreal, with 603 cases.

Mylene Drouin, the regional director of public health, said the city has seen two outbreaks, including a five-case cluster in a long-term care home and another outbreak at a health-care facility.

She said that while the majority of cases involve travellers or their close contacts, the city is also seeing cases of community transmission.

Some 31 health workers are also infected, she said.

Wednesday was also the first full day of a partial lockdown that mandates the closure of all non-essential businesses until April 13.

Legault said the decision on reopening at that time would depend on the success of Quebecers in reducing the rate of spread, and he acknowledged it was a difficult period for Quebecers, with many out of work.

He said that he himself felt well, despite missing seeing his grown children, and felt encouraged by Quebecers pulling together to fight the virus.

"We'll get through this," he said. "It's a tough period but it's temporary."

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the majority of those who contract the virus recover. Some may have few, if any symptoms, or may not know they're infected because symptoms of the novel coronavirus are similar to a cold or flu.

However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with underlying conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, fewer than 10 per cent have required hospitalization, with fewer than five per cent of cases requiring admission to the ICU.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2020.

— By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.