Quebec will require its citizens to carry a “vaccine passport” as of Sept. 1 that would serve to exclude those who have not received two doses from going to gyms and bars or participating in team sports in COVID-19 hot zones.
Health Minister Christian Dubé stressed the passports would only be mandated in regions that experience outbreaks and would not be needed to access essential services. The government set the deadline for Sept. 1 because it’s expected everyone will have the ability to receive two doses by then.
“With vaccinations, we have an alternative to generalized lockdowns,” Dubé said. “It will be good for society, education, the economy and the health network.
“It’s quite clear that those who are adequately vaccinated will have a more normal situation. … The people who refuse to get vaccinated, it’s their right, but they must know that in the case of an outbreak or transmission in a certain area, they may have to isolate, they may have to get tested. Or they may not have access to certain activities.”
Quebec will restrict access to “high-contact areas” like gyms and bars, or activities like team sports, Dubé said, and “moderate contact areas” like arts festivals or watching sporting competitions.
Recent surveys show 95 per cent of people who contract COVID-19 in Quebec or are hospitalized are those who have not been fully vaccinated, Dubé said.
“We cannot continue to paralyze, for instance, the health-care network, when people make the choice not to get vaccinated,” he said.
The move to impose stricter regulations was spurred in large part by the fear of more transmissible variants that have led to outbreaks in countries like the United Kingdom, despite relatively high vaccination rates there.
The government also hopes to spur the 18- to 29-year-old sector that has been slower to get vaccinated. In order to get two doses by Sept. 1, members of that age group will need to get their first vaccination in July. The wait time between doses has been reduced to four weeks, and Quebec now has ample vaccine supplies, Dubé said. He singled out Montreal, Laval, the Outaouais and Mauricie–Centre-du-Québec as regions where youth vaccinations are lagging.
“I’m telling you, it’s staring to get urgent to get your first dose if it’s not already done,” Dubé said.
The need for a vaccine passport or proof of adequate vaccination would apply to anyone coming to an affected area of Quebec from abroad, including workers who commute from Ontario or travellers from other countries.
People with medical conditions prohibiting them from being vaccinated can have a medical dispensation that would serve as their passport.
In response to criticism vaccine passports unfairly target marginalized communities for whom it’s more difficult to access vaccines, Dubé said people have had ample time to get a first dose and the government is working to get vaccinations out to those sectors of society.
Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce welcomed the news, but said the government should bring in the use of vaccine passports sooner so restaurants and cultural institutions can open at full capacity for those who are adequately vaccinated, as is done in countries like Israel and Denmark. It also called on the federal government to open the borders to fully vaccinated tourists without forcing them to quarantine.
“While most of our international partners are already moving in that direction, Canada is lagging behind, causing considerable harm to our tourism sector,” president Michel Leblanc said.
Because the restrictions on people’s liberties will depend on the government’s use of scientific data to demonstrate the necessity of the measures, Quebec’s vaccine passports would likely pass international legal standards, said human rights lawyer and McGill law professor Pearl Eliadis.
“If there is an outbreak and we see public health measures are necessary and supported by scientific data, and then we put into place individual measures, and if all of those ifs are met, then I think it would meet the legal test,” she said.
Opposition party Québec solidaire cautioned, however, that vaccine passports could be used as an exclusionary tactic by landlords or employers.
“The vaccination passport may be relevant for certain contexts, but it should not become a tool of blackmail or discrimination,” MNA Vincent Marissal said in a statement. The party has been requesting a parliamentary commission on the issue since February to address ethical issues.
The use of the passports will depend on a multitude of factors like hospitalization and death rates, levels of new variants and the number of outbreaks in a sector. But Dubé said the government is now aiming for 80 per cent of the population getting two doses, an increase from the original 75 per cent because of the rise of more transmissible variants.
Quebec has a self-service site that allows citizens to download a copy of their proof of vaccination, and print it out if necessary. It is accessible here.
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