Quebec ramps up COVID-19 testing; actual case number could be as high as 250,000

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As the province prepares to reopen schools and businesses in the coming weeks, Quebec's chief public health officer announced plans Friday to test many more Quebecers for COVID-19.

Dr. Horacio Arruda also suggested there are far more people walking around with the virus than the official figures have indicated.

Dr. Arruda says the number of tests will be increased from 6,000 per day to about 14,000 by next week. And while they intend to test everywhere, in all regions, priority will be given to those living in COVID-19 hotspots, particularly in the northeastern boroughs of Montreal, where there's been a surge in positive COVID-19 cases in recent days.

They'll also give priority to people with symptoms, health workers, first responders, those set to go back to work or school, and people who've come in contact with someone who's tested positive.

The tests, Dr. Arruda says, will also be targeted.

"Surely, we can't test everybody," Dr. Arruda said, "We'll start by people who have symptoms, because that's where we have the best chance of finding someone positive, identifying their contacts, and testing them. They may be at greater risk of being contaminated, and without symptoms."

Meanwhile, Dr. Arruda suggested the actual number of people who've been infected by COVID-19 in the province is a lot higher than the official numbers indicate.

Officially, there are now more than 28,648 confirmed cases in Quebec — an increase of 1,110 in the last 24 hours. But he says the actual number of Quebecers who've been infected with COVID-19 is likely closer to 250,000 — nearly 10 times the official number.

"We think the infection rate is somewhere between 3 and 5 percent of [all] Quebecers," Dr. Arruda said, adding that that figure could have gone as high as 15 per cent without the weeks of lockdowns and social distancing orders.

A University of Montreal study suggested the number of Quebecers who've been infected is 12 times what's been reported — around 255,000. They found also that the actual infection rate in Ontario is about 18 times the government figure, meaning somewhere around a half million people in Canada's two largest provinces now have, or had, COVID-19.

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