Facing onset of 4th wave of COVID-19 infections, Quebec to implement vaccine passport system

Quebec will implement a vaccine passport system in the coming weeks, Premier François Legault announced Thursday, saying rising case numbers in the province and the prospect of more hospitalizations and deaths have made the system necessary.

Fully vaccinated people would have access to certain non-essential services

Premier François Legault said Thursday that a vaccine passport system will allow Quebec to avoid the widespread closures that have marked its pandemic response to date. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

With the threat of a fourth wave looming, Quebec Premier François Legault announced Thursday that vaccine passports will soon be required to access non-essential services such as gyms and restaurants.

"People who have made the effort to get their two doses must be able to live a somewhat normal life," Legault said during a media briefing.

He said the system will allow the province to avoid the widespread closures that have marked its pandemic response to date.

For several months, the province has been issuing QR codes, or quick response codes, to vaccinated people. These codes, which can be printed or stored on a mobile device, are scanned to pull up information about a person's vaccination status. So far, the province has not provided anyone with the information to interpret the codes.

Legault said details will be released soon, and that rising case numbers and the prospect of more hospitalizations and deaths have made a vaccine passport system necessary.

Since the start of the vaccination campaign, 83 per cent of Quebecers have received at least a first dose, while 67 per cent of the population is adequately vaccinated, according to the province's public health institute, INSPQ.

WATCH | Quebec to introduce vaccine passports: 

Quebec will implement vaccine passports

2 years ago
Duration 2:02
Quebec Premier François Legault announced Thursday the province is working on mandating vaccine passports for non-essential services such as restaurants, movie theatres and concerts.

Legault says although the province is on track to achieving its goal of fully vaccinating 75 per cent of the eligible population by September, the highly contagious delta variant could lead to a spike in hospitalizations, noting that it's important to get fully vaccinated and that the province was reviewing its targets with public health.

"Nobody wants to relive what we have lived over the last year. That is to say, postponing surgeries because our hospitals are overcrowded."

Last week, Quebec was still averaging around 100 new cases per day. On Thursday it recorded 305 new cases.

Epidemiologist says 'it's time'

Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist, said because the more contagious delta variant is now spreading in Quebec, the government no longer has the luxury of waiting to convince stragglers of the merits of vaccination.

"Because of delta, we have to be strategic. It's time to do it now," Baral said of the passport system.

For months, the Legault government has warned that vaccine passports may be necessary if the epidemiological situation worsens.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said last month that people in Quebec 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.

In a tweet Thursday, Dubé said people who were not vaccinated or who only received their first dose in the past 14 days comprise 62 per cent of new COVID-19 cases.

"The rise in cases is worrisome," Dubé wrote. "We can speak of the beginning of a fourth wave."

Similar systems in use elsewhere

France and Italy already have vaccine passport systems in place and plan to expand them to more businesses and services. New York City will begin implementing a system later this month. 

Quebec will be the first Canadian province to require two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to access certain services, though Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have similar measures.

WATCH | Infectious disease expert says passports necessary:

Vaccine passport 'necessary intervention,' says Quebec specialist

2 years ago
Duration 5:42
Quebec's announcement of COVID-19 vaccine passports is timely because cases are rising, says Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist in Montreal.

For example, Manitoba's vaccination card allows vaccinated people to travel elsewhere in the country without having to isolate upon their return. It also allows people to visit their loved ones in seniors' residences.

P.E.I requires all travellers age 12 and up to obtain a pass that includes the name address and vaccination status of the traveller.

In June, Nova Scotia asked its privacy commissioner to look into the implications of a vaccine passport.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the Montreal news conference with Legault, says he fully supports Quebec's decision and is looking to implement vaccine passports in other interested provinces to facilitate international travel.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen seated at left, and Legault, right, talk with a family prior to making a child-care funding announcement in Montreal on Thursday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Critics predict conflicts, policing issues

Trudeau said the clerk of the privy council is evaluating how federal government employees and workers in industries regulated by the federal government, such as airlines, may be required to get vaccinated. 

"Canadians have understood that you need to get vaccinated to get through the pandemic. It's not just a question of individual choice, it's about protecting the community," Trudeau said.

Earlier this week, the leader of the official opposition in Quebec, Liberal MNA Dominique Anglade, asked the government to set up such a passport system to control what activities unvaccinated people can participate in should there be a fourth wave. 

François Meunier, vice-president of Quebec's restaurant association, says there will be conflicts with customers and owners will be stuck policing the system.

However, he said, "experiencing widespread confinement for almost a year is a situation that must be avoided at all costs."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Radio-Canada

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