Three years in: Quebec hasn’t seen the last of COVID-19, says doctor

It’s been a tumultuous three years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social distancing. Mask mandates. Remote work. MRNA vaccines. Curfews. Hospital overflows. Death counts. Rapid tests. Protests. Political uncertainty. Plexiglass.

It all started on March 11, 2020.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said flags would be flown at half-mast on government buildings Saturday to honour the lives claimed by the virus.

“Three years later, my thoughts are still with the families and loved ones of the victims,” Legault wrote on Twitter.

Over 18,000 Quebecers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. In Canada, that number is over 50,000. Worldwide, it’s over 6.8 million.

Today, the situation in Canada is relatively stable, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday.

But, as one Quebec doctor points out, stable does not mean over.

“Stable means the number of cases is neither going up nor going down. It’s the same, so we have a steady stream of people getting sick and dying every day,” said cardiologist Dr. Christopher Labos.

“For people who want to trivialize COVID-19 and say it’s no different from the flu, let’s not forget the flu kills thousands of people every year and puts a significant strain on our healthcare system.”

Dr. Labos also points to measures that could mitigate the virus’ impact moving forward, such as updating vaccines, wearing masks in crowded places, and improving indoor air quality.

“If we want to prevent things like COVID-19, influenza, RSV and all these other respiratory viruses, cleaning the air that we all breathe is the way to do that,” he said. “It’s not something that requires any personal sacrifice from people. We just need to upgrade the aging infrastructure. It will be expensive, but it is doable.”

Dr. Labos says there is also potential in a new type of vaccine that would be a ‘big game changer.’ 

“Basically it’s a different type of vaccine that would create antibodies in your respiratory tract that would prevent you from getting infected in the first place,” he said, adding the timeline for such a vaccine isn’t clear yet.

In February, Quebec updated its spring 2023 vaccine strategy. Booster shots are now only recommended for immunocompromised people who have never had COVID-19.

Public health officials said the new recommendation concerns hybrid immunity, achieved when a person has been both vaccinated against COVID-19 and infected by the virus itself.

Anyone who is sick with COVID-19 or any respiratory illness is still advised to follow public health guidelines and avoid exposing others.  

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