COVID live updates: With 20,000 health workers off sick, hospitals slash services, brace for Omicron ‘tsunami’

Quebec bans unvaccinated people from liquor, cannabis stores as of Jan. 18. Vaccine passport will soon require three doses. Province speeds up booster shots for people under 50.

Author of the article:

Andy Riga

Publishing date:

Jan 07, 2022  •  2 hours ago  •  17 minute read

Urgences-santé ambulances leave the emergency room at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal.
Urgences-santé ambulances leave the emergency room at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

Updated throughout the day on Thursday, Jan. 6. Questions/comments: ariga@postmedia.com

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Top updates

  • Seniors’ needs not being met amid CHSLD staff shortage, says orderly
  • U.S. is open as Canada shuts down. The difference? Their health-care systems
  • Erin O’Toole pushes for ‘reasonable accommodations’ for unvaccinated Canadians
  • Videos: Key moments from today’s Quebec pandemic update
  • Quebec liquor and cannabis stores to ban unvaccinated customers as of Jan. 18
  • Vaccine passports will soon require three doses
  • Quebec speeds up booster shots for people under 50
  • Hospitalizations jump by 203 as Quebec reports 26 deaths, 15,874 cases
  • Quebec could see more than 3,000 hospitalizations, 400 ICU patients, projections suggest
  • ‘It’s making people really sick in a different way’: How Omicron affects hospital patients
  • ‘It’s a crisis’: Canadian hospitals closing, cancelling surgeries amid COVID-related staff shortages
  • Staffing challenges from surging cases affecting some police, transit services in Canada
  • Quebec could have done more to avoid latest COVID-19 crisis, health experts say
  • Parents, teachers concerned by Quebec’s plan to reopen schools
  • Opinion: Jean-François Roberge’s words are hardly reassuring
  • Quebec government lays out plan for elementary and high schools in January
  • Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter

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4:30 p.m.

Thanks for reading

I’ll be back tomorrow with another live blog.

In the meantime, you can follow all our coverage via the coronavirus page .

My previous COVID-19 live blogs are available here .


4:05 p.m.

Seniors’ needs not being met amid CHSLD staff shortage, says orderly

It’s not the virus that has Sophie-Kim Nguyen worried, it’s the the lack of adequate staff that is a far greater risk than COVID-19 at the long-term care centre where she works.

Several times in the last month, Nguyen has been just one of just two orderlies working in her wing at the CHSLD Joseph-François Perrault, responsible for 32 patients. With that ratio, some needs are just not being met.

Read our full story, by Jason Magder.

Sophie-Kim Nguyen is an orderly at a St-Michel-based CHSLD. She says the staffing is so short, that on Jan. 1 there were only two orderlies around to deal with 32 residents.
Sophie-Kim Nguyen is an orderly at a St-Michel-based CHSLD. She says the staffing is so short, that on Jan. 1 there were only two orderlies around to deal with 32 residents. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Forces personnel now helping in Quebec vaccination clinics, Anand says

???? Laval, Québec: Our @CanadianForces personnel are on the ground in vaccination clinics, supporting the province of Québec’s vaccination campaign. Throughout this pandemic, our Armed Forces have been there to support Quebecers and all Canadians. Thank you for your hard work! pic.twitter.com/ljYbRN01wC

— Anita Anand (@AnitaAnandMP) January 6, 2022

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3:15 p.m.

U.S. is open as Canada shuts down. The difference? Their health-care systems

From the Bloomberg news agency:

As Omicron sweeps through North America, the U.S. and Canadian responses couldn’t be more different. U.S. states are largely open for business, while Canada’s biggest provinces are shutting down.

The difference largely comes down to arithmetic: The U.S. health care system, which prioritizes free markets, provides more hospital beds per capita than the government-dominated Canadian system does.

“I’m not advocating for that American market-driven system,” said Bob Bell, a physician who ran Ontario’s health bureaucracy from 2014 to 2018 and oversaw Toronto’s University Health Network before that. “But I am saying that in Canada, we have restricted hospital capacity excessively.”

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The consequences of that are being felt throughout the economy. In Ontario, restaurants, concert halls and gyms are closed. Those measures are also in effect in Quebec, in addition to a 10 p.m. curfew and a ban on in-person church services. British Columbia has suspended indoor weddings and funeral receptions.

The limits on hospital capacity include intensive care units. The U.S. has one staffed ICU bed per 4,100 people, based on data from thousands of hospitals reporting to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Ontario has one ICU bed for about every 6,000 residents, based on provincial government figures and the latest population estimates.

Of course, hospital capacity is only one way to measure the success of a health system.

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Overall, Canadians have better access to health care, live longer than Americans and rarely go bankrupt because of medical bills. Canada’s mortality rate from COVID-19 is a third of the U.S. rate, a reflection of Canada’s more widespread use of health restrictions and its collectivist approach to health care.

Still, the pandemic has exposed one trade-off that Canada makes with its universal system: Its hospitals are less capable of handling a surge of patients.

The situation is especially stark in Ontario. Nationally, Canada has less hospital capacity than the U.S. has, as a proportion of the population. But even among Canadian provinces, Ontario fares the worst. It had one intensive-care or acute-care bed for every 800 residents as of April 2019, the latest period for which data is available, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. During the same period, the average ratio in the rest of Canada was about one bed for every 570 residents.

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That leaves the province’s health care system in a precarious position whenever a new wave of COVID-19 arrives.

“The math isn’t on our side,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday as he announced new school and business closures this week to alleviate pressure on the province’s hospitals. The province has nearly 2,300 people hospitalized with COVID-19.


3:10 p.m.

Erin O’Toole pushes for ‘reasonable accommodations’ for unvaccinated Canadian truckers

From The Canadian Press:

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says those unwilling to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should be accommodated through measures like rapid testing, as health experts warn the lightning-fast spread of the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

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Ontario is reporting an uptick in hospitalizations and days ago made the decision to keep school-aged kids learning from home for at least two weeks, which Doug Ford’s government said was to take pressure off the health-care system.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliot says of the 319 patients in intensive care, 232 of them are not fully immunized against COVID-19 or have an unknown status, while 87 are double-vaccinated.

O’Toole came out as opposed to vaccine mandates during last year’s election campaign and today accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of fuelling vaccine hesitancy by attacking those who haven’t received their shot.

Trudeau on Wednesday said Canadians are angry at those who refuse to be vaccinated because they are filling up hospital beds, causing cancer treatments and elective surgeries to be put off.

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The Conservative leader says he refuses to criticize people who aren’t vaccinated and believes “reasonable accommodations” should be provided to those who work in the trucking industry in order to avoid service disruptions.


2:10 p.m.

Organizer of controversial charter flight says he wanted to host a ‘private and safe event’

The organizer of a Dec. 30 charter flight to Cancun from Montreal that became the focus of international attention and outrage because of the unruly behaviour of its passengers said on Thursday his priority was to host “a private and safe event in Cancun.”

Read our full update.

This screengrab taken from a social media video posted by Journal de Montreal reporter Francis Pilon shows people partying on a Sunwing flight without masks.
This screengrab taken from a social media video posted by Journal de Montreal reporter Francis Pilon shows people partying on a Sunwing flight without masks. Photo by Francis Pilon /Twitter screengrab

2:10 p.m.

Opinion: Lack of data leaves us just winging it through COVID’s fifth wave

“There were several opportunities and ample time to develop comprehensive strategies to increase our capacity to test and trace and to care for people with COVID-19. Unfortunately, they were largely missed. There are ongoing delays in administering the third-dose booster. There should have been an earlier and more strategic deployment of rapid self-testing both to reduce the spread but also to more accurately estimate the epidemiological parameters of COVID-19. We should also have increased our testing, tracing and hospitalization capacity.

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“Now, in the midst of the fifth wave of COVID-19, we are flying blind.”

Read the full opinion piece by Janusz Kaczorowski, professor and research director in the Department of Family and Emergency Medicine at Université de Montréal.


2:10 p.m.

Montreal Canadiens will remain shut down through Saturday

The Canadiens announced Thursday that they have extended their break from all activities through Saturday because of COVID-19.

Read our full story, by Stu Cowan.


1:45 p.m.

14 inmates, 19 staff infected at prison in Laval, federal agency says

Correctional Service Canada today said that 14 inmates and 19 staff at the Federal Training Centre prison in Laval have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We are closely monitoring the situation, and measures are in place to minimize the spread of the virus within this minimum/medium-security facility,” the federal agency said.

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Here’s an update on the situation in Quebec prisons, via The Canadian Press:

The union for federal correctional officers says four prisons in Quebec are “very close” to experiencing staff shortages, as more workers test positive for COVID-19.

“We’re very close to it but we’re not there yet. And I hope we won’t go there,” said Mario Guilmette, Quebec region vice-president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Guilmette has said Correctional Service Canada is working on a protocol to be used if the province’s federal prisons hit staffing shortages. The protocol would mean workers who are considered close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 may be asked to come back to work after isolating for eight days instead of 10.

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The union said the four Quebec prisons at risk of staff shortages are La Macaza Institution, Donnacona Institution, Joliette Institution for Women and the Regional Reception Centre.

Correctional Service spokeswoman Marie Pier Lecuyer said 322 staff across Canada had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Wednesday, up from 248 workers on Dec. 31.

There were 218 cases active among inmates in federal prisons as of Wednesday, up from 107 on Dec. 31.

Lecuyer said staffing levels at institutions in the Quebec region are currently “adequate” to ensure safe operations.

Correctional Service has not brought any staff who tested positive back to work until they are fully recovered, but has a protocol in place to return staff to the workplace if needed to maintain “critical public safety services,” said Lecuyer.

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The protocol focuses on returning asymptomatic staff who have completed the majority of their 10-day isolation period, combined with ongoing rapid testing and additional work isolation measures, she said.

She said other contingency plans are in place to address staffing levels, such as approving staff overtime and having managers replace correctional officers as needed.

The service has reported outbreaks at 16 federal prisons since the beginning of December, when the Omicron variant first took hold in the country.

By comparison, the agency reported outbreaks at 12 institutions over the previous six months.


1:30 p.m.

Videos: Key moments from today’s Quebec pandemic update

Projections show a substantial increase in hospitalizations in mid-January

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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A third dose will soon be required for Quebec’s vaccine passport 

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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Vaccine passport required at SAQ, SQDC starting Jan. 18

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12:55 p.m.

Here’s Quebec’s new eligibility schedule for third doses

We have updated our guide to vaccinations in Quebec to reflect new eligibility dates for third doses.


12:45 p.m.

Chart: Current situation vs. one year ago


12:45 p.m.

Chart: Hospitalizations – vaccinated vs. unvaccinated


12:45 p.m.

Updated charts: Quebec cases, deaths


12:45 p.m.

Chart: Quebec’s vaccination campaign


12:15 p.m.

Quebec liquor and cannabis stores to ban unvaccinated customers as of Jan. 18; passports will soon require three doses; province speeds up booster shots for people under 50

The situation in Quebec hospitals is already dire as the province braces for a “tsunami” of new patients due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, Health Minister Christian Dubé says.

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He made the comments Thursday as he announced that Quebec will ban the unvaccinated from liquor and cannabis stores, and will soon require Quebecers to have received three doses to use vaccine passports.

“The situation at the moment is very, very, very difficult,” the minister told reporters at a press conference, noting there are currently 20,000 employees missing from the health-care system due to COVID.

On Thursday, the province reported 15,874 new cases and 26 additional deaths, with more than 400 people entering hospitals with COVID, a new high.

Provincial projections published Thursday suggest Quebec could see more than 3,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including more than 400 in intensive care. Quebec currently has 1,953 COVID-positive hospital patients; 207 of them are in ICUs.

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Hospitals across the province are reducing services, but even with maximum reductions, it will not be enough to free up the staff needed to care for the expected increase in COVID patients, said Dr. Lucie Opatrny, an assistant deputy health minister.

The government is working with unions to try to find ways to open beds that are currently closed to treat all the COVID patients who will need treatment in the coming weeks, she said.

Quebec is close to reaching a point where major treatments – for cardiac problems and prostate cancer, for example – are set aside to free up beds for COVID patients, Opatrny said.

Dubé noted many patients who figure in Quebec’s hospitalization statistics were not admitted for COVID but are positive nonetheless.

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However, even though COVID isn’t their main diagnosis, hospitals must handle them differently from other patients.

“It complicates the work of health workers,” Dubé said, noting that a woman with COVID who delivers a baby, for example, can’t be placed close to a woman who does not have COVID.

Liquor and cannabis stores

Dubé announced that, as of Tuesday, Jan. 18, proof of vaccination will be required to buy liquor and cannabis in person.

Customers will have to flash their vaccine passport to enter Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) and Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) stores.

“I’m just saying that if you don’t want to get vaccinated, stay home,” Dubé said.

He said the measure will limit the number of people that the unvaccinated come into contact with. “It will also protect them from themselves,” he added.

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He said the SAQ and SQDC restrictions are “only a start,” adding that the vaccine passport will be imposed in more non-essential locations in the days to come.

He defended the decision to wait almost two weeks to impose the new measure, saying the two government agencies need time to prepare.

Three-dose passport

Dubé said at some point in the coming months, Quebec’s vaccine passport will only be valid for people with three doses.

No date has been set yet and the province will give time for all Quebecers to get a chance to get jabbed, he said.

To that end, Quebec also announced that it is speeding up access to booster shots.

At the moment, people 50 and older are eligible.

Here are the new eligibility dates:

  • 45 and older: Jan. 7.
  • 40 and older: Jan. 10.
  • 35 and older: Jan. 12.
  • 25 and older: Jan. 14.
  • 18 and older: Jan. 17.

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Home rapid tests

With Quebec now strictly limiting who can get PCR tests at government screening clinics, daily case numbers are not as accurate.

The province has distributed rapid tests and plans to hand out more starting next week, but so far there is no way for officials to track positive cases found by those home kits.

Dubé said Quebec is almost ready to launch an online platform that will allow people to report positive rapid-test results. He said he hopes it will be up and running next week.

The new system will help Quebec better gauge the situation, the minister said.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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11:05 a.m.

Hospitalizations jump by 203 as Quebec reports 26 deaths, 15,874 cases

Quebec has recorded 15,874 new cases of COVID-19, the provincial government announced this morning.

In addition, 26 new deaths were reported.

Some other key statistics from Quebec’s latest COVID-19 update:

  • Montreal Island: 4,204 cases, 8 deaths.
  • Net increase in hospitalizations:​​ 203, for total of 1,953 (415 entered hospital, 212 discharged).
  • Net increase in intensive care patients: 16, for total of 207 (50 entered ICUs, 34 discharged).
  • 95,350 vaccine doses administered over previous 24 hours.
  • 60,509 tests conducted Tuesday.
  • Positivity rate: 31.2 per cent.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Quebec has reported 696,182 cases and 11,846 deaths linked to COVID-19.

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10:10 a.m.

Quebec could see more than 3,000 hospitalizations, 400 ICU patients, projections suggest

Quebec could see more than 3,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including more than 400 in intensive care, according to projections published this morning by the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS).

The projections are based on data collected up to Jan. 3.

As of yesterday, Quebec had 1,750 COVID-positive patients in hospitals and 191 in ICUs.

The INESSS said its latest projections “are less robust” than previous ones because the effects of the health measures announced on Dec. 20 and Dec. 30 “are not yet visible in the data, so their effects cannot be taken into account by the models.”

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In addition, it noted that the province’s decision to severely limit access to PCR tests “prevents models from anticipating a possible increase or decrease in cases.”

The INESSS forecast also “does not integrate the progression of the third vaccine dose and its effect on hospitalizations.”

The report said:

  • “For regular beds, projections suggest that within two weeks, occupancy for COVID patients could exceed 3,000 beds, well beyond the Level 3 established by the Health Department and the thresholds observed in previous waves.”
  • For intensive care beds, “projections also predict that within two weeks, more than 400 beds could be occupied – i.e., above Level 3 established by the Health Department and beyond the thresholds observed in previous waves.”

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The INESSS also noted that “many people are hospitalized for a reason other than COVID but are then declared positive (secondary diagnosis) upon admission or during their stay.

“This proportion could represent nearly 50 per cent of regular beds and more than 15 per cent of intensive care beds.”


9:55 a.m.

‘It’s making people really sick in a different way’: How Omicron affects hospital patients

Some Canadian emergency rooms are being walloped by “ridiculous” numbers of people with suspected or confirmed COVID, with symptoms ranging from what essentially resembles a mild cold to, in the unvaccinated and vulnerable, severe COVID pneumonias, frontline doctors are reporting.

Read our full story.


9:55 a.m.

‘It’s a crisis’: Canadian hospitals closing, cancelling surgeries amid COVID-related staff shortages

In big and small cities across Canada, the pandemic has intensified staffing shortages to the extent that, in some cases, governments have had to back down on vaccine mandates for health-care workers in order to keep the doors open.

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Read our full story.


9:25 a.m.

Staffing challenges from surging cases affecting some police, transit services in Canada

Surging cases of COVID-19 driven by the rapidly transmissible Omicron variant are pushing the health-care system to the brink and putting pressure on some police and transit services, The Canadian Press reports this morning.

With 170 personnel booked off on leave related to COVID-19, the Winnipeg Police Service declared a state of emergency Wednesday and the Edmonton and Calgary police services warned of staffing challenges after a growing number of members tested positive or were in isolation.

Ontario’s GO Transit says a temporary reduction in train and bus service in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton regions is set to begin within days due to staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced yesterday Ottawa will distribute 140 million rapid tests across the country this month, four times the number delivered in December.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the restrictions on molecular lab tests mean there is no way to be sure of just how many COVID-19 cases there truly are in Canada.


9:20 a.m.

Quebec could have done more to avoid latest COVID-19 crisis, health experts say

Nearly two years into the pandemic, health experts in Quebec are still calling on the government to provide the population with resources they’ve been requesting since the beginning: N95 masks, better ventilation, rapid tests and quicker vaccine rollouts.

Read our full story, by Katelyn Thomas.


9:20 a.m.

Parents, teachers concerned by Quebec’s plan to reopen schools

Though they understand the importance of in-person learning for children, parents and teachers expressed concern Wednesday over Quebec’s plan to reopen schools in two weeks.

Despite the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced Wednesday the province still intends to have students back in class on Jan. 17.

Read our full story, by Jesse Feith.


9:20 a.m.

Opinion: Jean-François Roberge’s words are hardly reassuring

“The highly contagious Omicron variant, which has overwhelmed all of Quebec’s defences with stunning speed, is largely to blame for the uncertainty as to when schools can safely reopen. But Education Minister Jean-François Roberge also bears a heaping portion of responsibility for repeatedly neglecting to do his homework earlier in the pandemic.”

Read the latest column by Allison Hanes.


9:15 a.m.

Quebec government lays out plan for elementary and high schools in January


9:15 a.m.

Canadiens’ Jan. 15 game postponed; two more players added to COVID list

The Canadiens added forwards Cameron Hillis and Michael Pezzetta to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Wednesday.

Read our full story, by Stu Cowan.


9:15 a.m.

NFL says Los Angeles Super Bowl is a go despite COVID-19 surge

The National Football League on Wednesday said it has no plans to move next month’s Super Bowl from Los Angeles due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and said its discussions with alternative sites are part of normal contingency planning.

Read our full story.


9:15 a.m.

The situation across Canada

Here’s the rate of case growth per 100,000 people over the past seven days, via the federal government’s latest epidemiological update .


9:15 a.m.

A guide to Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccine passport

Quebec’s vaccine passport is mandatory for people 13 and older who want to access services and activities deemed non-essential by the provincial government, including bars, restaurants, gyms, festivals and sporting events.

Quebecers can use a smartphone app to prove their vaccination status or simply carry their QR code on paper.

The app is available from Apple’s App Store and Google Play .

We have published two guides to the passports – one looks at how to download and set up the app , and another answers key questions about the system, including how, when and why.

You can find more information on the Quebec government’s website – one page has details on how the system works, and another has a list of the places where a vaccine passport will be required .

A test scan of a vaccine passport is shown at an Econofitness gym in Laval on Aug. 17, 2021.
A test scan of a vaccine passport is shown at an Econofitness gym in Laval on Aug. 17, 2021. Photo by Christinne Muschi /REUTERS

9:15 a.m.

A guide to COVID-19 vaccinations in Quebec

Local health authorities have set up vaccination sites across Montreal.

You can book appointments via the Clic Santé website or by phone at 1-877-644-4545.

Quebecers can also visit walk-in AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccine clinics .

Here are the nuts and bolts of getting vaccinated , by Katherine Wilton. Her guide includes the age groups targeted, how to book appointments, and addresses of vaccination centres.


9:15 a.m.

Here are the current pandemic restrictions in Montreal and Quebec

We are regularly updating our guide to what services are open, closed or modified in Montreal and Quebec.

You can read it here.


9:15 a.m.

Here’s where Montrealers can get tested today

Montrealers can be screened at test centres across the island.

For other parts of Quebec, check out this page on the Quebec government’s site .


8:30 a.m.

Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter

Stay informed with our daily email newsletter focused on local coronavirus coverage and other essential news, delivered directly to your email inbox by 7 p.m. on weekdays.

You can sign up here .


ariga@postmedia.com

Read my previous live blogs here.


More On This Topic

  1. People wait in line at a Parc Ave. COVID-19 testing site in Montreal, on Monday, January 3, 2022.

    Hospitalizations jump by 158 as Quebec reports 39 deaths – most in 11 months


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