MONTREAL - Nearly a quarter of Quebec's seniors residences have at least one case of COVID-19, Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday.

Legault said 519 of the province's roughly 2200 seniors homes and long-term care facilities have reported cases, and he urged Quebecers to refrain from visiting elderly people who are highly susceptible to the virus.

"There must be no visits in residences. It's a matter of life and death," he said.

The Quebec government has already pledged $133 million in emergency assistance for seniors residences to help them hire new staff and adapt to the crisis. On Wednesday, Legault said the government would also offer to pay for hotels for workers who want to limit their contacts outside of work.

The number of cases in the province rose by 449 on Wednesday, to a total of 4,611. Two more people died, bringing that total to 33.

Health Minister Danielle McCann admitted that limiting the spread within the senior population represents "a big challenge" for the health network.

While most people who are infected with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, the virus can be more serious for older people or those with underlying health conditions.

McCann said long-term care homes were being organized into "hot" and "cold" zones, with dedicated personnel wearing protective equipment to care for those infected. Residents of private seniors' homes were being asked to stay in their apartments, she said.

She said the health system is also trying to reorganize its workforce to ensure staff no longer work in multiple institutions and to minimize the number of people coming into each location.

"I want to tell families we are doing everything we can," she said.

Despite the sobering announcement, the news on Wednesday wasn't all dire.

Legault noted that the number of people in hospital had increased by just 21 to 307, and the number of people in intensive care remained unchanged from Tuesday at 82. Some 231 people have recovered from the virus, the province reported.

The premier also said the province's situation had improved in regards to personal protective equipment, a day after warning the province could run short of some material in as little as three days.

He said the province received some shipments and now has a week's supply.

He said there could still be a time that's "a little more critical" after next week, but the province is working with some Quebec companies that should be able to start producing supplies in the coming weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2020

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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