Quebec Premier Francois Legault called on the province's seniors and those who may be inclined to visit them to stay home until further notice on Saturday in a bid to stop the growing spread of COVID-19.
Legault said the measures are necessary to protect a demographic that's statistically proven to be more vulnerable to the disease caused by a novel form of coronavirus.
A new ban on visitors to the province's hospitals, seniors' residences and long-term care facilities has the same goal, he added.
"I would like today to ask all Quebecers over 70-years-old ... to stay at home," Legault said. "And I would like to ask all Quebecers who can help them — getting for example some food — to do so."
Quebec had 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province as of Saturday afternoon, up from 17 on Friday.
The seven new cases include three in the Monteregie region south of Montreal, one in Montreal, one in the Eastern Townships, one in the Lanaudiere region northwest of Montreal and one classified as "to be determined."
One of the cases was Quebec's first confirmed case in a minor.
Ste-Justine Hospital in Montreal said the child tested positive after returning from a trip to Europe, but is now recovering at home.
Another 850 people are under investigation and 1,399 tests have come back negative.
The province has been ramping up measures in the past 72 hours, calling on all citizens returning from abroad to self-isolate for two weeks, banning indoor gatherings of more than 250 people and shuttering all schools, daycares, junior colleges and universities until at least March 30.
Legault also urged the federal government to rapidly limit the entry of foreign visitors into the country and urged Quebecers abroad — including retirees dubbed snowbirds who spend their winter months in warmer climates — to return home now while they can.
The measure announced Saturday comes amid coronavirus mortality numbers from China that illustrate the risk to seniors.
The figures showed that patients 50 and under had less than a one per cent chance of dying from COVID-19, but the number rose to 8 per cent for those over 70 and 15 per cent for those over 80.
"I know it's tough because when you have your mother or grandmother, you'd like to visit her," Legault said. "But it's not a good idea to visit people and take the risk that they get the coronavirus."
Legault said health authorities have received calls from taxi drivers, many of whom are concerned about ferrying people around from the airport who may have the virus.
"What we're telling them is to wash their hands very frequently," Legault said. "That's the best measure."
Legault said the province has also adopted a decree to declare a state of health emergency for at least 10 days.
The measure doesn't change anything on the ground, but it does give the province's Health Department more flexibility to deal with expenditures without going to tender or losing time with administrative red tape.
Meanwhile, one day after announcing services would remain open to help parents grappling with school closures, Quebec City announced Saturday its public facilities like arenas and libraries would shut down as of Saturday evening.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2020.
- By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal
The Canadian Press