MONTREAL — The situation in some Quebec hospitals has become so critical that authorities have begun installing beds in so-called, “non-traditional locations,” such as a Quebec City hotel, the health minister said Friday.

Christian Dube warned that more non-essential surgeries and other medical procedures could be suspended across the province if COVID-related hospitalizations continue to climb. He named ten hospitals in Quebec he said were in critical condition.

“The situation is critical in some hospitals,” Dube told reporters during a virtual news conference. “We’ve had to prepare beds for COVID patients in what we call, non-traditional locations, because we lack beds in hospitals.”

“In Quebec City, we installed beds at Hotel Le Concorde,” he said, “we are even going to be forced to use the reception rooms.” 

COVID-related hospitalizations in Quebec have risen 50 per cent in the past three weeks, for a total of 1,011. The number of patients in intensive care rose by seven compared with Thursday, to 141.

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Dube asked Quebecers to avoid partying during the holidays to help the health-care system survive the month of January. “I’ve heard that the orders at the SAQ (Quebec’s liquor commission) are very strong right now — that’s not a good sign.” He asked people to save those bottles for a later date.

A government-funded health institute said Friday that despite the surge in hospitalizations, the province should not exceed its COVID-dedicated hospital capacity over the next four weeks. Dube said his department has dedicated 2,164 beds across the province for COVID patients.

But the Institut national d’excellence en sante et en services sociaux said it cannot rule out that the number of COVID patients won’t exceed dedicated capacity in less-populated regions. The institute said two-thirds of the COVID-dedicated beds in outlying regions are occupied.

Quebec reported 1,773 new COVID-19 cases Friday and 36 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, five of which occurred in the past 24 hours. The province also reported 1,866 more recoveries for a total 147,398 since the beginning of the pandemic. Quebec has reported a total of 172,801 cases and 7,671 deaths linked to the virus.

Health authorities said they inoculated another 896 people, for a total of 3,305 since the province’s vaccination campaign began on Monday at two locations, one in Montreal and another in Quebec City. 

Starting next week, 21 additional sites will be opened to vaccinate long-term care patients and staff, Dube said, adding that the province’s goal is to administer some 50,000 doses between Dec. 21 and Jan. 4.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s director of public health, said the vaccine protects people who receive it, but he said it’s still unclear whether it stops transmission of the novel coronavirus. “We will keep the same principle: protect the ones at higher risk and the ones who are working in essential services,” he said. 

Schools were forced to close Thursday and won’t reopen until at least Jan. 11, while the province has ordered anyone who can work from home to do so. All businesses the government deems “non-essential” will be forced to close starting Dec. 25 and until at least Jan. 11.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2020.