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#NewsMatters: The National Assembly Report

By Raquel Fletcher

Sixth wave of pandemic runs rampant in National Assembly

A sixth wave of COVID-19 is running rampant in the National Assembly, as it is in the larger population.

Quebec City correspondent Raquel Fletcher has been struggling lately with Covid.

Both the premier and deputy premier tested positive last week, as well as eight other MNAs, National Assembly employees and even members of the press tribune like myself. I am writing this column with a fever and a runny nose. Despite being triple vaccinated, a rapid test confirmed I have also contracted the virus.

After managing to avoid getting COVID-19 for the last two years, learning to “live with the virus” has been a rough lesson. Not just for me. I know families who self-isolated during the holidays, only to be going through the whole process again as other members test positive now. Some people seem to pull through with minor symptoms, described as a “bad cold,” while people like me have been sick in bed for days. Other friends, still healthy, tell me their stress levels have spiked as they prepare for what now seems the inevitable, stocking up on Kleenex and chicken noodle soup. The economy may have re-opened, but the pandemic is still interrupting our lives.

Uptick in cases expected

The uptick in cases is in part, to be expected, after Quebec relaxed most of its public health restrictions earlier this month. The explosion of new cases has led to an increase in hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care, but nothing like what we have seen during past waves. For this reason, the health minister maintains that public health measures will not be reintroduced.

“It’s true we’re concerned about the increase in the cases and hospitalizations, but, at the same time, I’ll remind you that it was foreseen,” health minister Christian Dubé told reporters last Thursday. “What changes things a little bit – but again, I repeat, it was foreseen – is the rapid increase of the BA.2 variant in proportion to Omicron, which has in the last several days, exceeded 50 per cent.”

Dubé insisted he is not concerned about hospital capacity, even in the regions, where this latest variant seems to be hitting the hardest. What this wave does seem to threaten is what many reporters have pointed out this past week: the National Assembly’s ability to pass important legislation before the end of the session because committee work is being held up due to the absence of so many MNAs.

$8.9 billion health care overhaul

This includes several pieces of legislation concerning health care, as well as the minister’s $8.9 billion plan to overhaul the health care system. Last Tuesday, Dubé announced the highly anticipated action plan, which includes major investments in home care, limiting mandatory overtime for nurses, improving access to data and the introduction of a single portal that will allow patients who don’t have their own family doctor to book an appointment with a GP.

The 50-point plan, which is supposed to be in place by 2025, has been heavily criticized by health care professionals and opposition parties for not being costed, nor specific about targets.

“The fact is, they (the CAQ government) have not fulfilled their promise of 2018 and now they are trying, with a new slogan, with some new catchy lines, some marketing plan to make us believe that now, eureka! They have found the solution,” said Québec Solidaire MNA Vincent Marissal.

One million Quebecers do not have a family doctor, up from 400,000 before the pandemic. The Liberal opposition says the plan does not actually address this main issue.

“The plan should be about having one person able to take care of you,” said Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade. “That one person knows your file, knows your history… and they can ensure a follow-up. And for chronic problems, this is really fundamental.”

Quebecers deserve health care that works

Many Quebec commentators have pointed out that the population remains cynical about the province’s ability to deliver on its promise to rebuild the health care system. Maybe I am just talking as someone who has not left my bed in a week, but after all we’ve been through these last two years, I’d say we can’t give up now. Quebecers deserve a functional health care system that puts patients first. They need to demand the government make that happen. The pandemic tested all our limits. It claimed thousands of lives. It brought our health network to the brink of collapse. It brought our health providers to the brink of exhaustion. It will all have been for nothing if we don’t become stronger as a result.