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Too early to credit curfew for drop in COVID-19 infections in Quebec: health experts

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Health authorities in Quebec have reported fewer than 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 for four consecutive days — almost two weeks since the imposition of a provincewide curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Premier Francois Legault has suggested the drop in cases may be the result of the curfew, which he said he imposed to reduce COVID-19 transmission, especially to people older than 60. The measure will be in effect, he said, until at least Feb. 8.

Health experts say it's too early to know for certain whether the curfew is behind the significant drop in new daily cases. But they differ on whether the drastic measure should start getting some credit.

Benoit Masse, professor of public health at Universite de Montreal, said it's "very difficult to know" whether the curfew is working because that measure was one of several restrictions imposed to reduce spread.

Primary schools had been closed for an extended winter break and only reopened Jan. 11, he said. High schools, meanwhile, reopened Monday. Government data indicates schools have been tied to more than 20 per cent of non-active outbreaks in the province.

Quebecers also got a "rude awakening," Masse said, when earlier this month officials reported more than 3,100 cases in a single day, sparking public warnings from doctors who said hospitals were on the verge of rationing care.

Those warnings may have shocked Quebecers into reducing their contacts, Masse explained. "It's certain that also had an enormous impact on Quebec." But, he added, the curfew may have also played a role in shocking Quebecers into reducing their contacts.

Roxane Borges Da Silva, a public health professor at Universite de Montreal who was one of the experts calling for a curfew in early January, said the measure may be having the desired effect.

She said a new study by researchers at the Aix-Marseille University in France indicates that a partial lockdown coupled with a curfew reduced transmission in that country among people aged 20 to 60.

That study, "An Early Assessment of Curfew and Second COVID-19 Lock-down on Virus Propagation in France," which has not yet been peer reviewed, found that the acceleration of viral spread among people older than 60 "decreased notably with curfew measures."

But even with the decline in the number of new cases, Masse said it's too early to say whether the trend will continue. It's also too early, he said, to declare victory.

Quebec reported 1,502 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 66 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including 10 that occurred in the preceding 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by 33, to 1,467, and 216 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.

The majority of the new cases were reported in Montreal and neighbouring regions. Officials reported 629 cases in Montreal, 199 in the Monteregie region and 148 in Laval. No other region in Quebec had more than 100 reported cases Wednesday.

Quebec has reported 247,236 COVID-19 infections and 9,208 deaths linked to the virus since the start of the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, b2021.

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

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press