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Quebec warns of equipment shortage as COVID-19 cases soar

Critical needs include protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns.

April 1, 2020   by Morgan Lowrie

MONTREAL — Quebec reported more than 700 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday as Premier Francois Legault warned that the province could face a shortage of medical equipment in the coming days.

Legault said the feared shortage mainly affects protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns.

“For certain equipment, we have enough for three to seven days, which is tight,” he said. “But we have orders that should be coming in the next few days, and we have hopes of being able to get by.”

Quebec’s confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 4,162 March 31, an increase of 732 from the previous day.

There were also six more deaths due to COVID-19, bringing the province’s death toll to 31.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said hundreds of residences serving elderly people have been affected, including 184 long-term care homes and 114 seniors’ residences.

The bright spot was the number of patients in intensive care, which rose by only four to 82, Legault said.

The premier said the shortage of equipment was due in part to orders that have not been delivered, as well as a high rate of use – a point that was echoed by Health Minister Danielle McCann.

“Right now, we’re using 10 times more medical equipment than normal,” she said. “So what we used in one year, we’re using in four weeks.”

Legault said he was working with the federal and Ontario governments to procure more supplies, as well as Quebec companies that have switched over to produce medical equipment during the pandemic.

McCann said that in the meantime health-care workers are being asked to save surgical masks for when they’re most necessary, while N95 respiratory masks are being disinfected and reused.

Legault thanked Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who he said had “accepted to transfer us some equipment,” as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland for working hard to secure orders.

He later clarified his comment on Ford to say some equipment that had been slated to go to Ontario would instead be sent to Quebec.

In a subsequent Twitter message, he appeared to further amend his message, thanking Ford for “putting me in touch with one of their medical equipment suppliers who can also provide us with important equipment.”

In his daily news conference, Legault rejected comparisons with neighbouring Ontario, which has less than half the number of cases, despite its bigger population.

Legault noted that Quebec has tested aggressively, and that each province has slightly different criteria for testing.

“We have a different method, so we have to be careful when you compare,” he said.

He said Quebec’s early spring break, which fell before travel restrictions were imposed, came at the “the worst time” and likely contributed to the spread of the virus.

While he admitted to being “impressed” with Ontario’s low infection rate, he maintained his province is still doing well compared with the United States and many parts of Europe.

In Montreal, where cases number nearly 2,000, Mayor Valerie Plante announced the city was opening two additional new shelters to serve the homeless, and is in the process of transforming a former hospital into an isolation ward.

Plante also announced the creation of three more outdoor day centres, bringing the city’s total to five, to offer meals, bathrooms and other services to the city’s most vulnerable.

Despite the detection of hundreds of new cases in each of the last few days, Legault and McCann said the province remained in relatively good shape to face the pandemic.

McCann said Quebec has freed up some 7,000 hospital beds in recent weeks, including almost 600 intensive care ones – something that “has never been seen before” in the province. Legault noted that while the number of cases is high, hospitalizations remained relatively low at 286.

 


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