MONTREAL — Quebec reported another large increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday and added two more deaths as Premier Francois Legault called for volunteers to help those unable to buy food.
The province reported 1,629 confirmed cases — the most in Canada — and two more deaths. One was in Montreal, and regional health authorities north of Montreal confirmed the second was a 91-year-old man from the Laurentians region who lived in a seniors residence.
Legault and Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's public health director, said the numbers are not unexpected.
The premier noted that with about 36,000 completed tests since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Quebec is one of the most heavily tested places in the world per capita.
Of those tests, 31,854 have come back negative and 2,622 are awaiting results.
"The situation is under control. What we see is what we thought (we'd see)," Arruda said. "It's almost all elderly people and some have been exposed to those coming from travel."
The province has previously reported deaths in the Lower St-Lawrence, the Eastern Townships in addition to the first four victims, who lived in the same seniors residence in Lavaltrie, northeast of Montreal.
The province's Health Department said the significant increase in the number of confirmed cases since Sunday is explained by the fact that cases testing positive by hospital labs are now considered confirmed and no longer require confirmation by the provincial lab.
Since that change, the province has reported large jumps every day, but the increases have slowly declined as well: 409 new cases on Monday, 385 on Tuesday, 326 on Wednesday and 290 on Thursday.
As of late Thursday, Quebec had nearly double the number of cases as neighbouring Ontario, but Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, advised caution when comparing numbers between provinces.
He said it's possible provinces are aiming their testing differently. For example, one province might include people at very low risk in its testing while another might focus on those at greater risk.
"With the same number of tests performed you're going to have a much higher number (of positive results) in the high-risk population," Oughton said in an interview. "It depends on what your goal of testing is," he added.
Testing high-risk people would help identify cases requiring treatment, but testing a broader segment of society would help pick up potential sources of community transmission, he said.
As of Thursday, Quebec reported 106 people are hospitalized, with 43 of them in intensive care.
During his daily briefing Thursday, Legault announced the government has launched a website to connect citizens and organizations requiring volunteers, and he urged healthy Quebecers under the age of 70 to give their time, while following strict rules regarding physical distancing.
He rejected a suggestion that there was a contradiction between shutting down non-essential businesses for three weeks while asking volunteers to head out to provide food.
"Right now, we have people who lost their jobs, they don't have the money to get some food for their families," Legault said. "So, what I'm asking Quebecers is to please help, if you can, to deliver food to the people that need it."
Legault said the province will ensure food banks have the money they need to respond to demand as people await promised federal aid.
He also told Quebecers not to be ashamed about having to use a food bank in such exceptional times.
"One should not be embarrassed to go in a food bank," Legault said. "It is not your fault that you have lost your job in the past few days, in the past few weeks."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2020.
— With files from Morgan Lowrie.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press