Montreal needs proper lockdown to avoid the worst: expert

The “relative tranquility” the city is experiencing will not last unless stronger measures are taken, and fast, says Dr. Matthew Oughton, infectious diseases specialist with the Jewish General Hospital.

The Montreal Gazette 4 minute read April 11, 2021

Now is the time to impose a true “circuit breaker” lockdown in the Montreal region to avoid the devastating third wave of COVID-19 that is overwhelming Quebec City and Ontario, says Dr. Matthew Oughton, infectious diseases specialist with the Jewish General Hospital.

“This would be the perfect time for a circuit breaker lockdown, while we are trying to roll the vaccine out,” Oughton told the Montreal Gazette on Saturday.

“I’m talking about a proper lockdown, where you do what Ontario has done,” but in time to make a difference, he said.

He said Montreal needs a stay-at-home order, where only essential workers can go to the workplace, where all schools are shut down and everyone reduces to the absolute minimum the number of close contacts they have per day.

“If you do that in Montreal you have a good chance of limiting the effect of this third wave. This would have to be done very soon. It may arguably be too late. Time and time again we have waited for hard signs that things are going poorly, but by the time you react it’s too late. You have to be faster than the virus and the virus is really fast.”

Even with the record-breaking number of vaccine doses administered over the weekend, nobody should assume vaccinations are winning the day just yet, he said.

“It’s not a race between the disease and vaccinations, it’s a race between the disease and a combination of vaccinations and preventive measures. To do this well you have to have vaccinations along with strict disease control because you need time to get vaccines into arms and time for those people to mount an immune response, which takes two to three weeks.”

The province saw a record number of vaccinations in a single 24-hour period on Friday, with 73,023 doses administered.

But takers for the AstraZeneca vaccine, offered without appointment, seemed to dwindle markedly on Saturday.

The Palais des Congrès was eerily quiet Saturday morning and it was possible to walk in without an appointment and get through the entire process, including the 15-minute waiting period after the shot, in about half an hour.

A spokesperson for the CIUSSS du Centre Sud de l’Île de Montréal confirmed demand dropped substantially on Saturday.

“By noon on both Thursday and Friday, we had injected about 400 doses of AstraZeneca at the Palais,” said Jan Nicolas Aubé. “Today, we were still trying to reach that amount by the late afternoon. It’s a big difference.”

The Palais team is prepared to administer up to 2,000 doses of AstraZeneca every day to walk-in clientele over 55 years of age, in addition to 1,000 others who have made appointments according to the province’s priority list. Canada has suspended distribution of AstraZeneca to people under 55 because of a possible link to blood clots in younger people, so Quebec is accelerating vaccinations for the 55 and over group, but only with AstraZeneca.

Aubé surmised the sunny weather may have kept some people away, or perhaps they feared long lineups during the weekend. He encouraged anyone who has an opportunity to get their vaccinations to do so, and quickly.

“Each vaccine we give puts us one step closer to winning against COVID and getting our regular life back,” he said.

Oughton praised the Quebec government for some recent decisions, such as introducing the walk-in option for AstraZeneca, and a new program that will see 13 large companies, including Rio Tinto, the SAQ and Trudeau airport, vaccinating employees and their families on site starting next month.

“Eliminating barriers so people can just walk in is brilliant. Having the vaccine come to people on the job is exactly what we need,” he said.

Oughton is also pleased to see the vaccine program targeting essential workers on the island of Montreal, a move he says is overdue, and he would like to see that extended to regions outside Montreal.

But he warned the “relative tranquility” Montreal is experiencing now will not last unless stronger measures are taken, and fast.

“Legault keeps saying: ‘If we see that things are going badly in Montreal, like a lot more hospitalizations and ICU admissions, then we will tighten things up.’ But if you wait that long, the disease has a lot of opportunity to spread and you are closing the barn door after the horse is out.”


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