Quebec may use vaccine passports this fall to shut out those not fully vaccinated from bars, gyms, festivals

If COVID-19 cases surge in the fall, Quebec may use vaccination passports to limit access to certain services for people who aren't fully vaccinated, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced Thursday.

Move will act as alternative to generalized lockdown if 4th wave hits, health minister says

A QR code showing proof of vaccination is seen on a smartphone at a Montreal COVID-19 vaccination clinic in May. If COVID-19 cases surge in Quebec this fall, the province says people who aren't fully vaccinated may lose access to gyms, team sports and theatres, for example, as an alternative to a generalized lockdown.  (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Quebec may start using digital vaccination passports to bar people who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from certain non-essential services as early as September, the province's health minister announced on Thursday. 

If the epidemiological situation deteriorates and a fourth wave hits Quebec, people who are not fully vaccinated may see themselves shut out of places and activities deemed "high" or "moderate" risk — such as gyms, team sports and theatres, for example — as an alternative to a generalized lockdown.

"If, and only if, the situation deteriorates, rather than closing sectors of activity, it would be necessary to be doubly vaccinated to access certain activities," Christian Dubé told reporters.

Dubé said the passports would only start being used once the entire eligible population has had the opportunity to get their vaccines — he mentioned Sept.1 as a potential date — and stressed they would only be used in regions that experienced outbreaks.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the passports would only start to be used once the entire eligible population has had an opportunity to get their vaccines — he mentioned Sept.1 as a potential date — and only if cases of COVID-19 begin to rise.  (The Canadian Press)

Vaccination passports will not be required to access essential services or goods.

"This is good for society, education, the economy and very good for our health network," said Dubé.

When asked if requiring proof of vaccination would be discriminatory, Dubé didn't directly respond to the question, but said the vast majority of Quebecers are in favour of vaccinations. He said he hopes to not have to use the practice at all.

In regards to people who have been advised not to receive a vaccination due to medical reasons, the province said the system will be "refined" in the next few weeks, and patients are urged to ask for proof from a doctor for now.

"It is clear that in the event of an outbreak, people who are adequately vaccinated will have a more normal situation, they will keep a normal life," Dubé said.

"People who refuse to be vaccinated, it's their right. But they must know: in the case of outbreak or transmission in their area, they might have to isolate, get tested or may not have access to certain activities."

2 doses to fight delta variant

As of Wednesday, 95 per cent of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the province in the last week affected people who were not fully vaccinated, Dubé said.

The minister appealed to the population to make a vaccination appointment, specifically singling out those aged 18-29, who he said are less likely to be vaccinated.

According to ministry data, 67 per cent of people in that age group have received one dose, the lowest rate in the province among groups eligible to receive the vaccine.

Using a vaccine passport may serve as an incentive for those people who don't see vaccination as a priority, said Dr. Cécile Tremblay. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Dr. Cécile Tremblay, a microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at a major healthcare network in Montreal, told Radio-Canada she believes using a vaccine passport can serve as an incentive for people who don't see vaccination as a priority.

As research also shows, Tremblay noted, one dose of a vaccine is ineffective at preventing the spread of the more highly contagious delta variant. 

"We don't want people sick or to die, but we also don't want our health-care system to be overwhelmed, like it was in past waves," she said.

Plans across provinces

Quebec is the first province to introduce a system where non-essential services would be inaccessible to people based on vaccination status, while other provinces have granted fully vaccinated people certain benefits.

In June, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced that fully vaccinated Manitobans will be able to travel within Canada without having to self-isolate for two weeks after they return, with an immunization card used as proof. 

Later this month, Prince Edward Island will welcome all visitors from outside Atlantic Canada and the Magdalen Islands, and all Canadians with a P.E.I. Pass will be allowed to visit without needing to isolate. 

People travelling to Quebec's affected regions from abroad would also need proof of adequate vaccination to access certain services. (CBC)

In May, Canada said it was in talks with its G7 allies about implementing a vaccine passport that would allow immunized Canadians to resume international travel, but no official announcement has come yet.

But earlier this week, the federal government eased border rules for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning to the country, allowing them to forego the 14-day quarantine period.

People travelling to Quebec's affected regions from abroad would also need proof of adequate vaccination to access certain services, Dubé said.

Health officials didn't specify any targets needed to avoid the implementation of vaccine passports, nor did they define a threshold that would prompt the introduction of the practice. It would depend on multiple factors, like hospitalization rates, deaths and the spread of new variants, they said.

But Dubé said the province is reaching for 80 per cent of the population to be fully vaccinated by August — an increase from the previous 75 per cent target — due to the rise of more contagious variants in other countries and across Canada.

As of today, 40 per cent of Quebec's eligible population has been fully vaccinated. 

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